Fitri Graham’s Legacy

More than thirty years after her death, Fitri Graham remains one of the most important forgotten artists of the twentieth century.

Fitri Jane Graham was born in Cremorne, Sydney, NSW in 1922. Her solo painting exhibition Melancholia in 1949 was avant-garde for Australia’s painting scene at the time and, hence, not well-received. Works that are remembered and celebrated from that period of Australian Painting were figurative, realist and at their most experimental, imaginative. The watercolour studies and oil paintings comprising Melancholia however were radical abstract explorations of colour, mark making, surface and emotion.

Imitations of Graham’s Melancholias were soon surreptitiously adopted in school, family and graduation portrait backgrounds, and, due to their popular appeal and aesthetic, quickly became the backdrop used by photographers almost everywhere.

Graham’s (until recently) unacknowledged contribution to visual culture is enormous. We carry her pocket-sized legacy in our wallets; we display her dust-collecting legacy on our mantelpieces; and we have piles of her legacy archived in plastic sleeves somewhere under the bed, in the garage or in the forgotten corners of our relatives’ houses.

Fitri Graham died in Queanbeyan, NSW in 1980.

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