Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Marek, Dusan Thomas (1926–1993)

by Stephen Mould

This article was published online in 2017

This is a shared entry with Voitre Marek

Dušan Thomas Marek (1926–1993) and Voitre (Vojtech) Marek (19191999), artists, were brothers, eldest and youngest of three sons of Vojtech Marek, railway administrator, and his wife Hermina, née Schinovska. Both were born at Bitouchov, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic), Voitre on 30 May 1919 and Dušan on 7 March 1926. Voitre was apprenticed in metal engraving (1935–38), and then studied at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts under Professor J. Horejc (1939–44). He established an atelier, working as a freelance sculptor, and was a member of the Czech Union of Creative Artists. In 1946 and 1947 he won prizes for his work. Marek showed early talent and studied (from 1942) at schools of applied art at Turnov and Jablonec, moving to Prague to study at the Academy of Fine Arts under František Tichý, a noted surrealist. 

In the wake of the communist takeover in 1948, Voitre, his fiancé Vera Podperova, and Dušan decided to flee. After a period at a refugee camp in Dillenburg, West Germany, the brothers sailed for Australia in August 1948 aboard the Charleton Sovereign. Neither expected to remain permanently in Australia. They landed in Sydney and were sent to the Bathurst migrant camp before moving to Adelaide. Vera, a teacher and translator, followed the brothers to Australia; she and Voitre married on 8 April 1949 in Adelaide. Dušan married Milada (Helena) Jakubova, a bookkeeper, whom he had met on board the migrant ship, on 11 January 1951 at the Office of the Principal Registrar, Adelaide.

Under the Displaced Persons’ Employment Scheme, the brothers and their wives had to work for two years to repay the costs of their passage, usually in labouring roles. The brothers initially worked for the railways until Vera, with her superior English, secured a job for Voitre utilising his engraving skills at Shepphard’s Jewellers. Dušan later joined the firm. Dušan’s strong accent and limited English made adjusting to his new life more difficult. During this time the brothers took part in group exhibitions. Voitre exhibited at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts (RSASA) autumn exhibition in 1949, while both had pieces in the Contemporary Art Society exhibition of July that year. The CAS refused to hang two of Dušan’s nude pictures on the grounds of obscenity; they were later shown in the Adelaide Independent Group exhibition. The exhibitions divided public opinion due to the content and structure of the paintings.

The negative reaction to Dušan’s work convinced him to leave Adelaide. He and Helena spent a short period in Tasmania (1951), moving to Sydney later that year. At this time he began experimenting with three-dimensional artworks and animated films. A further controversial exhibition in Sydney at the Mack Gallery in 1953 led him to withdraw to Papua New Guinea (1954–59). While working as a cargo boat engineer, he produced only two paintings, one film (The Magician, 1956), and a number of observational drawings. Returning to Adelaide, he began to create landscapes in a lyrical-abstract style, incorporating surrealist iconography. This culminated in a 1963 exhibition at the Bonython Gallery, Adelaide. In the same year, his film Adam and Eve was awarded the Australian Film Institute prize for best experimental film. 

Between 1963 and 1968 Dušan lived in Sydney where he continued to paint and increasingly focused on film, producing the feature-length surrealist work Cobweb on a Parachute (1966–67), which survives only as a working print. He returned to Adelaide in 1969, producing another feature-length film, And the Word Was Made Flesh (1971), and a significant number of paintings. In 1973 he was invited to Hobart to take a post as lecturer in painting and film at the Tasmanian School of Art. A solo exhibition was mounted by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1975. After taking up a fellowship (1977) at the Australian National University, Canberra, he returned to Hobart. During 1979 he undertook a study tour to the United States of America and Europe. From 1982 his health began to decline and he resigned from his lectureship. After travelling to Italy and France on a painting tour, he returned to Adelaide and settled at Eden Hills, where he established a studio and painted until the end of his life. Two major series emerged: Homage to the Sun (1984), comprising more than eighty works in response to the disastrous bushfires in the Adelaide hills; and Eye of the Heart (1990), a sequence of fourteen large-scale works. 

Unlike his brother, Voitre remained in Adelaide. In 1953 he became director of the New Gallery, presenting a solo exhibition there. While their children were small, he and Vera took the opportunity to live and work on offshore lighthouses between 1956 and 1960. During this time a religious epiphany had a decisive effect on the course of his future work. From his arrival in Australia until the 1960s he had been producing small drawings as well as prints, working in a lyrical-surrealistic style reminiscent of the German-French artist Jean Arp. In 1960 he held a solo exhibition at the RSASA, Adelaide. Around this time he discovered and adapted a steel-rod welding technique to create sculptures, and experimented with a number of abstract and biomorphic works. In the wake of these trials, he realised the opportunity to create ecclesiastical works in churches that were being adapted according to the postulates of Vatican II (1962–65). From this point his work was largely dedicated to religious art, blending surrealist, Byzantine and Romanesque elements, and employing steel rods and embossed copper panels. His works can be found in twenty-four churches throughout the country. He held a solo exhibition at the Adelaide Festival in 1966, was awarded a Churchill fellowship (1969–70) to further his studies in religious art, and was elected an associate member of the United States Guild for Religious Architecture. 

Both brothers were affected by poor health in the latter part of their lives. Dušan suffered multiple heart attacks and developed kidney disease. During his final years he charted in paint the demise of his body, perhaps illustrating his comment that ‘It is as necessary for me to paint as it is for a tree to grow’ (Schrapel 1993, 14). He died on 9 March 1993 in Adelaide and was survived by his wife, who took his ashes back to the Czech Republic. His death came the night before the National Gallery of Australia opened Surrealism: Revolution by Night, which featured his work. Voitre had suffered brain injuries from a car crash in 1973 which progressively affected his capacity to work. He died on 27 November 1999 in Adelaide, survived by his wife, and their son and daughter. Before his death he had received a blessing from the Pope for his contribution to religious art. 

Research edited by Kylie Carman-Brown

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Beauty Springs from a Blowtorch.’ Australian Women’s Weekly, 26 May 1971, 36
  • Donaldson, Cheri. ‘Deep and Defiant: Dušan and Voitre Marek: Two European Émigré Artists in Postwar (South) Australia.’ MA (Art history) thesis, University of Adelaide, 2007
  • Marek, Vera. Oral history interview, State Library of South Australia, OH 628/3
  • Murphy, Bernice. Dušan Marek. Sydney: Macquarie Galleries, 1979
  • Mould, Stephen. The Birth of Love: Dušan and Voitre Marek, Artist Brothers in Czechoslovakia and Post-War Australia. Norwood, SA: Moon Arrow Press, 2008
  • Schrapel, Stephanie. ‘Dušan Marek’, Kalori 31, no. 1, (March 1993), 14
  • Dutkiewicz, Adam. ‘Raising Ghosts: Post-World War Two European Emigré and Migrant Artists and the Evolution of Abstract Painting in Australia, with Special Reference to Adelaide ca.1950–1965.’ PhD thesis, University of South Australia, 2000

Additional Resources

Citation details

Stephen Mould, 'Marek, Dusan Thomas (1926–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marek-dusan-thomas-20471/text31401, published online 2017, accessed online 20 April 2018.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018