The Communist Party encouraged art that was politically aligned with its philosophy and policies. In the 1930s it had its own art group, the Workers’ Art Club. This group published one issue of a magazine, Masses, emblazoned with the masthead ‘Art is a weapon’: a means to show the working class that the future lay with communism.
The later, short-lived Melbourne Popular Art Group had similar aspirations. Ailsa O’Connor was an artist actively associated with the Social Realists and was a member of the Communist Party. Noel Counihan, who made three of the linocuts in this portfolio, maintained his commitment to Social Realist principles throughout his long career and is today the best known member of the group.
Their portfolio of prints and accompanying booklet on Eureka were issued to commemorate the centenary of the Eureka Stockade; to ‘celebrate men standing together, in mateship, to defend their rights and liberties.’ This was a message of immediate and pointed relevance to the Left in 1950s Australia.
Most of the prints in this portfolio are linocuts. This is a very simple and accessible way of making a print where a design is cut into the surface of soft linoleum. Ink is then applied to the surface of the raised area which is then printed onto paper. As the surface of the linocut wears, its ability to carry the ink decreases and the surface of the printed image loses quality. In this portfolio a mix of early and late prints are collected together; the quality of some of the prints is much higher than some of the others. Was this the Communist Party’s way of expressing their belief in equality for all?
Each of the prints was originally unframed, and presented as pages of the portfolio.