Ikon presents the first UK exhibition dedicated to the work of convict artist Thomas Bock (c.1793–1855). A selection of drawings, paintings and photographs demonstrate Bock’s technical skill and sensitivity to a wide range of subject matter.
Born in Birmingham (UK), Bock trained as an engraver and miniature painter. In 1823 he was found guilty of “administering concoctions of certain herbs … with the intent to cause miscarriage” and sentenced to transportation to Australia for 14 years. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania, where he was quickly pressed into service as a convict artist. An early commission included a number of portraits of captured bushrangers, before and after execution by hanging, including the notorious cannibal Alexander Pearce.
At the heart of the exhibition is Bock’s extraordinary series of portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, now in the British Museum. His drawing throughout is fine and the likenesses probably very true. The sitters have a demeanour that conveys both pride and despair, suggesting that Bock, being marginalised himself, closely identified with them and sought to convey the tragedies suffered by these indigenous people through the British settlement in Australia.
Ikon’s exhibition also includes a number of nude life drawings as well as daguerreotypes by Bock – tiny photographic images on silver plate, mounted and glazed in cases – depicting people he would otherwise have drawn or painted, and demonstrating his openness to new techniques.
Bock’s story is a compelling one, his time in Tasmania brought him recognition within his field, and his work is remarkable not only for its inherent quality but also for the light it shines on the early years of a penal colony in Australia – the aspiration and the awfulness of it.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue available from Ikon Shop.
Organised in partnership between Ikon and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.