John Perceval was a leading member of the Heidelberg School – a group of artists, including Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan, who were at the vanguard of modernist painting in Melbourne in the 1940s. The years 1943 and 1944 were a major peak in Perceval’s painting career, a prolific time during which the artist created disturbing and intense images, often referring back to his own difficult childhood.
Floating mask 1 1943 relates closely to the Gallery’s Boy with cat 2 1943, sharing several elements of Perceval’s personal iconography – most notably, the small boy (an image of the young Perceval) and the cat. Yet, while Boy with cat 2 is powerfully expressionistic, Floating mask 1 is essentially surrealist and primarily concerned with the theme of the unconscious and with nightmares and dreams. A floating, disembodied mask with eyes closed, apparently asleep, hovers in an empty room; a small child looks on, gripping the door with terror; his feline companion rigid with fear. The door becomes the symbolic threshold over which the child dares not cross: the boundary between conscious thought and the irrational realm of dreams and the unconscious mind.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra