In 1941 Francis Brabazon wrote to his Sufi preceptor Baron von Frankenberg, ‘I have completed a painting from meditation and have shown it to the ones (in the Sufi group) who are interested in Art. I was very pleased because Os (Oswald Hall) was impressed. You see all along I have been saying to them about only painting from meditation and dedicating all work to the One (God). So it was good to be able to show a definite proof that it works, Os (who has studied exactness of drawing at school) was impressed by the fact that although I have not studied from models at all, the main anatomical features were true.’
The painting Francis was referring to was most likely ‘Annunciation’ which was gifted to Oswald Hall by Francis after it was exhibited in 1941 by The Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne.
Oswald Hall had come into close contact with Francis Brabazon in 1936 when he was about 20 years of age and Francis 30; Oswald was an intellectually oriented painter studying at the Victorian National Gallery where his father had been Director and Head of its Art School for 40 years, and Francis at the time was posing as a life model for students; Oswald was one of the most brilliant and grifted of the students and in 1938 at the age of 21 won the Victorian National Gallery’s prestigious travelling scholarship for his work, but with the outbreak of the second world war was unable to travel to Europe in accordance with the award.
It was Oswald Hall who was most likely to influence Francis to paint; one major reason being that Francis admired Oswald’s surrealistic driven imagery and the fact he was a thoroughly academically trained artist with a distinct spiritual and psychological difference from other students at the Gallery.
It is clear in the letter Francis wrote to Baron von Frankenberg, that Francis and Oswald were both studying Sufi disciplines under his guidance including meditation, and that Francis displays a familiarity with Oswald as well as admiration for his art expertise.
I knew Oswald Hall intimately from the early 1960s till the early 70s and first met Francis Brabazon in India in 1965 when I visited Avatar Meher Baba.
By 1940 Oswald was in very close association with Francis, and in the years to follow became a devotee of Avatar Meher Baba and remained so for the rest of his life as Francis Brabazon did; it is on record, that it was as early as 1939 that Oswald was attracted to Meher Baba when he opened a book in a bookstore and saw an image of Him.
In 1956, when in Melbourne, Avatar Meher Baba visited Oswald Hall at his home with a few disciples, which included Francis Brabazon who was living in Sydney at the time.
Oswald Hall was what one may call a serious painter, whereas Francis Brabazon discontinued painting in 1943 and turned to his destined role as a poet for the rest of his life, nevertheless, I would like to make a comparison of Francis Brabazon’s previously mentioned painting ‘Annunciation’ from 1941, and a brilliant painting by Oswald Hall of Avatar Meher Baba from 1972, ‘The Visitation’.
Both these paintings epitomize the vast difference in painting concepts of Francis and Oswald yet both are equally fastidious in their chosen genre; Francis was the intellectually resonant naïf artist attempting to be the spiritual poet of painting, albeit in simplistic yet profoundly intuitive terms of directness, whereas Oswald Hall concentrated his intellect into generous and psychologically purposeful visionary exactness; as Francis Brabazon reached his apotheosis as a poet for Avatar Meher Baba with Stay With God, Oswald Hall also achieved his life’s spiritual goal as a painter with ‘The Visitation’, it is without doubt his masterpiece and is now in the possession of The National Gallery of Canberra.
With ‘Annunciation’, we must first of all ask ourselves why Francis gave it this title. It shows a man and a woman obviously in meditation; having said this, it must be observed that the woman is seated on the floor meditating on the man, whilst the man is meditating sitting on a chair with a gaze skyward, given a visionary form by a vase of flowers.
‘Annunciation’ is the prototypal influence which Francis Brabazon decidedly and accurately assessed was, or could be, the outcome of successfully achieving the object of meditation, the presentiment of Archangel Gabriel, or the ‘birth’ of a new form of awareness, i.e. the eventual demise of ego nature toward a rebirth as a pure angelic being of sound psychological and spiritual stature; why is the woman intently meditating on the man?, in Francis Brabazon spiritual terminology he is saying, “The man for God and the woman for man!”
Studying Oswald hall’s visionary painting ‘The Visitation’, we must conclude that it is Avatar Meher Baba’s direct Visitation to him which has enabled him to give perfect form and spiritual substance to his lifelong search for an absolute Truth in his art; we are compelled to either reject or sympathise our intelligent reckoning with this painting he has concentrated his Olympian energies into with such acumen as it propounds difficult intellectual assessment.
Analysis could be made, but let this wondrous achievement of Oswald Hall speak for itself, as he has achieved his lifelong ambition to paint a non-pictorial representation of Avatar Meher Baba which confronts us as few other paintings can; one cannot be a casual observer with ‘The Visitation’ so I will say no more; except that Francis Brabazon and Oswald Hall are brothers not only in Art but in Vision for Avatar Meher Baba.