Menzies Art Brands



The exceptional quality of Joel Elenberg's artistic output was remarkable despite his career being cut short by cancer at the age of thirty two. Elenberg began his artistic career as a completely self taught painter, experimenting with crushing his own pigments however he later found himself drawn to the tactile, three dimensional quality of sculpture. It is this intimate understanding of the bronze medium Elenberg possessed that set him apart from his Australian contemporaries - the artist created a completely unique oeuvre which was outside of the mainstream and without comparison.

The work Elenberg was creating during his early years caught the attention of the already established artist, Brett Whiteley, and began a close friendship which would endure for the remainder of Elenbergs tragically short life. The pair travelled to Europe together and it was here Elenberg found the need to challenge his own artistic vision and ability. The test of working in stone and bronze had not been taken on by many Australian artists and it was at this point in Elenbergs career that the young artist shifted his focus to these two difficult, yet ewarding, mediums.

Together with his interest in working with ancient materials came an interest in the cultures of tribal Africa and the Pacific, shared also by the influential artists Pablo Picasso, (1881-1973), Consantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Amedeo Modgiliani (1884-1920). This trend of the new exotic originally stemmed from the opening of Parisian shopkeeper, Emile Heymanns boutique in Paris which opened around the time Picasso became interested in new forms of figuration. The exposure of these primitive cultures to civilized European society saw the beginning of ethnographic iconography being widely used in art and later, in design and advertising.

The present work, Mask C, is from the Mask series of works in which Elenberg explores the formal visual qualities of non-Western cultures. Here, the artist has translated and simplified these qualities to create a striking visual statement The curved, rounded edge of the mask contrasts with the vertical negative space of the eyes and the relief of the horizontal nose. The natural colouring of the patina demonstrates the unique characteristic of bronze as a medium - it is easy to see how Elenberg became preoccupied by the beauty of this material.

All his works have a frontal emphasis. There is no desire to walk around them ... [however] there is certainly a desire to stroke and touch them.1 The tactility of Elenbergs three-dimensional sculptures is a quality which sets his own works apart from other contemporary sculptural works. The artists commitment to the labour intensive mediums of bronze and stone consequently limited Elenbergs production however, two major exhibitions of the artists sculptural works at Sydneys prestigious Robin Gibson Gallery were widely critically acclaimed: an exhibition of stone carvings in 1978 and a posthumous exhibition of bronzes in 1980, in which the current work was exhibited.

Despite his career being tragically cut short, Joel Elenberg managed to carve a niche in Australian art history with his works in stone and bronze no other Australian artist had the vision or the skill to create the rare, beautiful three-dimensional forms which demonstrate Elenbergs distinctive talent.

1. McGrath, S., The Australian, 14 October 1978


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