Judy Cassab is one of the grand dames of Australian art. Born in 1920, she lived in Hungary until 1949, and she and her family immigrated to Australia in 1951.
A Hungarian Jew, Cassab fled Europe after 10 years of oppression at the hands of both the fascist and communist regimes. Her family and countless friends and loved ones perished in the Holocaust, and she arrived in Australia with her husband Jancsi, and two young sons, John and Peter.
Cassab was both a skilled and talented portraitist, and an artist who grabbled with the challenges of modernism and subsequent aims to find her own artistic vision.
Cassab was twice winner of the Archibald Prize and her portraits and abstracted landscapes are immediately recognisable and part of an Australian consciousness.
This exhibition presents a more private side of Cassab’s life than that of previous public exhibitions and commissioned portraits of leaders and luminaries.
It includes artworks from the family’s collection, illustrated letters, and unpublished passages from her diaries. Much of what the exhibition contains has been part of the lives of the artist and her family, and not made with the public in mind.
Entitled Dear Bodhi this exhibition provides a moving account of Cassab’s connection to the northern rivers, gained primarily through her son, John Seed (Janos), and his family at Bodhi Farm.
The exhibition pays particular attention to the relationship between Judy (or Juci as she was called in the family) and her grandson Bodhi.
Cassab has often said that her life can be split into two parts; her life as an artist, and her life as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother.
These all-consuming priorities were sometimes conflicting, which tore at her at times. This exhibition reveals a moment when those passions overlapped.
Cassab has been a very serious and dedicated artist who has earned a very worthy place in the history of Australian art.
The Northern Rivers landscape is arresting through her modernist lens, which breaks down some of the region’s well known beauty spots and recombines elements to avoid a mere copy or sentimental imitation of nature.
The letters to Bodhi show another side of Cassab. They are a soft and loving conversation with the grandson she clearly adored.
Her diary excerpts (showing in the screen gallery) provide a rare record of the counter-cultural movement in the Northern Rivers, and life at Tuntable Falls Community and then Bodhi Farm.
John Seed worked out of the Northern Rivers to become a pioneering environmental activist, involved in direct actions which have resulted in the protection of Australian rainforests. He, Greta Seed and their son Bodhi sought their own ideologies to live by, which were at times at odds with values of the mainstream and the older generation (which Judy was of course part of).
This exhibition provides a fascinating insight into this generation gap, whilst at the same time demonstrating love, open-mindedness and intelligence across generations.
Judy Cassab has held more than fifty solo exhibitions in Australia, as well as others in Paris and London. She was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to the visual arts in 1969, and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1988.
She was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1980 to 1988. Following the publication of her diaries in 1995 (which won the Kibble Award for Literature in 1996) Cassab received an honorary Doctor of Letters (Hon. PhD) from Sydney University.
Judy Cassab: Dear Bodhi runs from April 18 to May 23 at the Lismore Regional Gallery.