click to enlarge Fountain of the Universal Housewife

Oil on Canvas (diptych)
155 x 249cm
Collection: National Gallery of Victoria

Limited edition Giclee archival prints of this painting are available for purchase. Paper size: 42.0 x 60.0 cm

Anne Marie Graham stands alone in the pantheon of Australian art as a dreamer of worlds both within and outside our own. Her vision is as instantly recognisable and accessible as it is uncompromising, and demonstrate what art does best - helping us to see the world anew, for what it is, and what it isn't. She projects fantastic new worlds that are charmingly simple yet deceptively complex.

Fountain of the Universal Housewife is a masterwork by Anne Marie Graham. It presents an aerial view into a busy city square, bustling with energy and movement. The activities of each individual - the woman carrying flowers, the man with the baby, the couple in the foreground, the boy climbing the lamppost - are each disconnected, but are part of a whole that is united by a fluid lines of the cold cobblestones. This mottled melange of brickwork holds the scattering of figures together, proposing that we move separately, but coexist as one. it is this underlying attestation to the dynamic energy that binds the universe which underpins Graham's wider oeuvre. An enduring faith in an overriding cosmological order, if you will. There are ecclesiastical overtones, but Graham's vision is pure and secular.

The paean to earthly virtue is expounded by the work’s key point of interest; its namesake 'Fountain of the Universal Housewife'. She is the 'unsung hero of suburbia' says Graham. She is the everywoman, who toils daily for neither recognition nor recompense. She is the last person we would expect to see personified in a city square, and so heralds Graham's characteristic twist on the natural order of the world. The entire scene is, of course, fictitious. An Australian resident since 1939 the work nevertheless betrays the artist's European sensibilities, both in subject and style. It is curiously Bruegel-esque, in its treatment of a large number of figures, each clearly delineated against the background; not detail too insignificant to warrant close attention.

Anne Graham is a brilliant colourist. Known predominantly for her high colour works, here she limits her palette to muted yellow and greys. The overall effect is to create an aromatic urban atmosphere, where we can almost smell the rich fragrances coming from the food stalls; the scent of the flowers; the potent pungency of city life. The stripes of the tent canopies form a playful  choreography of shapes, which remind us that underneath the very careful depiction of hustle and bustle lies a very ordered and equally careful abstract composition.

On many levels, from many vantage points, the Fountain of the Universal Housewife delights. While she often employs colour independent of form, Graham's subjects are grounded firmly in reality. They are as spirited as they are spiritual, and have much to recommend on the prospect of everyday life.

Simon Gregg
Curator, Gippsland Art Gallery, Victoria