Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vike, Harald (1906–1987)

by Gail Clements

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Harald Vike, [left, with R. C. Casey], by Neil Murray, 1957

Harald Vike, [left, with R. C. Casey], by Neil Murray, 1957

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3598005

Harald Hansen Vike (1906-1987), artist, illustrator and cartoonist, was born on 30 August 1906 at Kodal, Norway, one of six children of Oskar Hansen Gallis, farmer, and his wife Berte Hausdatter, née Haugtuft. As a child Harald moved with his family to Vike, from where he took his name. He left school at 14 to work on the family farm but in 1923, aged 17, he began working as a stoker on board whaling ships. In 1927 he jumped ship and spent six months in Western Australia before returning to Norway.

Interested from an early age in drawing and painting, he decided to settle in Western Australia and to become a professional artist. He arrived at Fremantle on 1 August 1929. Five ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, of solid build and physically strong, he first earned money in Perth as a professional boxer. He took art lessons at James W. R. Linton’s Institute of Art and from George Pitt Morison, the curator of art at the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery, who became a good friend and mentor. Drawing and painting both the city and its inhabitants and the surrounding countryside, in 1933 he won the West Australian Society of Arts’ prize for landscape in watercolours. He worked for J. Gibbney & Son Pty Ltd, a graphic arts studio, as an illustrator.

Late in 1934 Vike became a founding member of the Workers’ Art Club (from 1936 the Workers’ Art Guild) and in 1935, influenced by the trade unionist Maurice Lachberg and a fellow artist, Leith Angelo, he joined the Communist Party of Australia. Using the pseudonym Rau (Norwegian for red), he drew cartoons for the party’s newspapers, Red Star and Workers’ Star. An active member of the guild, he acted in plays, designed and constructed sets and conducted weekly drawing classes for no pay. In 1934-37 he shared a studio with Herbert McClintock and regularly exhibited his landscapes and Perth city scenes. Other work, including the cartoons, banners for trade unions and designs for floats used in Perth’s Labour Day parades, made use of modernist stylising and heroic imagery and reflected his progressive political views and fear of fascism: labourers performing heavy physical work, and the hopelessness of the unemployed, often depicted reading or involved in intense discussion in the Perth Public Library.

In 1941 Vike moved to Melbourne where, on 8 September, at the office of the government statist, he married Joan Adelaide Kidd, a clerk and fellow member of WAG, who had travelled from Perth with him. During World War II he worked at the Commonwealth Steel Co. Ltd’s store. He continued to paint city scenes—roofscapes, laneways and backyards—as well as people either at work or sitting in trams. Julian Goddard described the pictures of workers as celebrating the strength and effort of labourers, ‘in line with the ethos of social realism’, adding that ‘Vike has abandoned the heroic for the ordinary and adopted a style owing more to his knowledge of modernism than the pictorial rhetoric of social realism’.

After the war Vike found employment as an illustrator for the Australasian Post and the Argus. On weekends he painted at Kew, Heidelberg or Bacchus Marsh with Len Annois and Alan McCulloch, who described his landscapes as having a ‘van Gogh-like freshness of colour and texture’. Although he held several solo exhibitions, he did not enjoy meeting prospective buyers of his paintings and failed to sell enough to make a living. In 1949-54 he created sets for the pre-film live entertainment at the Palais Picture Theatre, St Kilda, and in 1954-59 for the Princess Theatre. He and his wife separated in 1956 and divorced in 1961. In 1958 he joined the new television station HSV-7 as chief of props, designing and painting sets.

In 1964 Vike left for the Kimberley and the Northern Territory with Sybil (Billy) Mearns, whom he married on 26 October 1965 at Tennant Creek. He painted the barren and harsh landscapes, and also people whom he described as ‘characters’. They travelled back to Melbourne via the Queensland coast, where he painted canecutters. He resumed work at HSV-7 but retired in 1969 and moved to Adelaide, from where he took painting trips to the Flinders Ranges and the Adelaide Hills. In 1982 he moved again, to Sandgate, Brisbane. Next year he spent six weeks in Tasmania, camping at the Franklin River blockade in extreme weather conditions, and recording the protesters and events in a series of paintings and drawings. His work was hung in group exhibitions, including Western Australian Artists 1920-50 (Art Gallery of Western Australia, 1980) and Aspects of Perth Modernism 1929-1942 (University of Western Australia, 1986). Early in 1986 he returned to live in North Perth; the last pictures that he painted were of the Swan River.

Survived by his wife and the two daughters of his first marriage, Vike died on 18 August 1987 at Nedlands and was buried in Fremantle cemetery with Lutheran rites. A major retrospective was held at AGWA in 1990. His work is represented in many public and private repositories, including the AGWA, National Gallery of Australia and Holmes à Court Collection.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Bromfield (ed), Aspects of Perth Modernism 1929-1942 (1986)
  • J. Gooding, Western Australian Art and Artists 1900-1950 (1987)
  • L. Layman and J. Goddard, Organise! (1988)
  • J. Goddard, Harald Vike 1906-1987: A Retrospective (1990)
  • A. McCulloch and S. McCulloch, Encyclopedia of Australian Art (1994)
  • Art and Australia, vol 27, no 3, 1990, p 435
  • West Australian, 24 Aug 1987, p 77.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gail Clements, 'Vike, Harald (1906–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vike-harald-15915/text27116, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Harald Vike, [left, with R. C. Casey], by Neil Murray, 1957

Harald Vike, [left, with R. C. Casey], by Neil Murray, 1957

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3598005