graphic and commercial artist and illustrator, designer and painter, was born in Auburn, Victoria on 8 June 1904. Apprenticed to a process-engraving firm in 1918 [McAuslan says to the firm of Patterson Shugg process engravers in 1925], he studied art at the National Gallery School, Melbourne in 1921 [McAuslan says 1922] and at the George Bell School (part-time) in 1925-28. He worked in advertising from 1926 to 1956, designing stamps, murals, newspaper ads and billboards.
Thake held his first exhibition of paintings and linocuts in 1927 (McCulloch says he had his first solo exhibition in 1947 at Georges Gallery, though he had begun exhibiting in 1927; McAuslan says he exhibited with Ethel Spowers and Dorrit Black in 1929). He belonged to the Melbourne Contemporary Group from 1923 and was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society in 1939.
An early exponent of Surrealism in Australia, Thake shared the CAS prize with James Gleeson in 1941. That year he also began printing his own Christmas cards, a practice he continued for forty years, resulting in 35 linocuts (1941-75) and five lithographs (1976-80), e.g. An Opera House in Every Home 1972, linocut 13.8 × 21.2 cm (AGNSW, NGV, GAG, etc.). A complete set of the 40 cards was offered for auction by Deutscher-Menzies on 24 November 1999, lot 168 (all are listed).
Thake enlised in the RAAF in 1943. He worked as medical draughtsman until 1944 then was commissioned as an RAAF Historical Section War Artist (1944-45). From December 1944 to March 1945 he travelled up the east coast of Australia through Townsville to Papua and Dutch New Guinea and finally to Morotai. The results of this trip include Salvage Dump, Port Moresby May 1945 (AWM), inspired by the American aircraft dump at Jackson Field (”...the place needs a Paul Nash, Piper, Sutherland or an Eric Thake to do it justice. I’d like to have a studio out here for a few weeks”: diary entry, c.20 December 1944, AWM). From July to December 1945 he travelled from Adelaide to Darwin via Central Australia. From Darwin he made two excursions to Koepang on Timor. Works done at the time include Airstrip at night, Alice Springs August 1945, pencil and gouache (AWM), and Liberator Face November 1945 (AWM), the latter a plane metamorphosed into an insect.
The work he produced during this period was later distributed between state galleries and the RAAF. Thake’s works now in the AWM were presented by the RAAF in 1947. Later he compiled a diary of his travels using the letters he had written to his wife and children at the time. When hostilities ended, he went back to Darwin and to the Penfoei airstrip at Koepang on Timor where he produced a dignified and sympathetic series of portraits of weary, disillusioned Japanese prisoners employed clearing up the wreckage of their own planes. He also made scenes of ruined houses and fragmented landscapes in both Darwin and Timor.
According to Deutscher-Menzies catalogue entry (1 May 2002, lot 277, est. $300-500), the late Col. Aubrey Gibson, a NGV trustee, commissioned Eric Thake to produce three Christmas cards for him: Guide Lecturer…Arnold Shore and Girls 1953, Director – Phar Lap… 1954 (ill Artists and Cartoonists ) and “Mr Picasso! Gentlemen, you won’t find him here” 1956 (the lot on offer).
Back at Melbourne Thake worked as an industrial designer, illustrator and painter. He was commissioned to do backdrops for the Aboriginal display cases in the MoV. (Do they still exist?) He also worked as a medical draughtsman at the University of Melbourne. Did cover designs for Meanjin and continued to paint surrealist paintings. He was given a retrospective at the NGV in 1970. He died at Geelong on 3 November 1982.
General ANU email 12/11/99: 'The Drill Hall Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of the linocuts of Eric Thake in the University’s Art Collection. There is one linocut that has not yet been located, so I am requesting your help to find it.
Eric Thake (1904-1982)
“Ho Joe!” 1946
linocut on paper
58.5 cm x 38.5 cm
It is printed in black ink on cream paper, with a cream mount and black metal frame. It depicts a man carrying a spear and waving his arm in the air. It is signed in pencil and dated below the man’s feet. The back of the frame should have a sticker with the number 274 on it. The last location listing I have for it is: Biochemistry 1st floor reading room, dated 12.3.1990. If you have seen a picture fitting this description on campus, please contact me, or anyone at the Drill Hall Gallery. Bronwyn Campbell, Collections Officer, ANU Art Collection, 6249 2501 OR ext.5832’