Concept

Noel Counihan

Summary
Noel Counihan (4 October 1913 5 July 1986) was an Australian social realist painter, printmaker, cartoonist and illustrator active in the 1940s and 1950s in Melbourne. An atheist, communist, and art activist, Counihan made art in response to the politics and social hardships of his times. He is regarded as one of Australia's major artists of the 20th century. Counihan was born on 4 October 1913 in Albert Park, then a working-class suburb of Melbourne. He attended the St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne Choir school (closed in 1929), then Caulfield Grammar School in 1928. He studied part-time under Charles Wheeler at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne during 1930–31, where he met the social realists Herbert McClintock and Roy Dalgarno. Social realism, the belief that art should reflect the realities of society under capitalism, was the artistic doctrine of the Communist Party of Australia, and in 1931 Counihan became a confirmed atheist and a member of the Party. He helped found the Workers Art Guild, and began printmaking, producing linocuts and lithographs for Communist magazine covers and pamphlets as well as designing banners. During the Great Depression Counihan participated in the "free speech" fights in Brunswick, organised by the Communist Party in response to a Victorian state government law banning "subversive" gatherings. Dozens of members of the Unemployed Workers Movement were arrested, and unemployed meetings at the intersection of Phoenix Street and Sydney Road, Brunswick were dispersed by police. As part of this fight, a young Counihan addressed a crowd from a locked cage on top a truck. Police had to cut him out, to the jeers of the crowd, as he continued speaking. From 1934 Counihan worked as a cartoonist for various publications, including The Bulletin and the Communist Party's paper, the Guardian from 1945 to 1949 and again from 1952 to 1958. He spent extended periods in hospital with tuberculosis during the Second World War. With the encouragement of the artist Yosl Bergner, he began to paint.
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