David Aspden, Norfolk Five, c.1970, oil on canvas, 260x313cm. Collection of Johnny Kahlbetzer, Sydney.

David Aspden, Norfolk Five, c.1970, oil on canvas, 260x313cm. Collection of Johnny Kahlbetzer, Sydney.

Exhibition Space: Birth of the Cool

Australian art threw off perceived quaintness in the 1960s and launched headfirst into the abstract era, as REBECCA BLACKBURN, GradDipRes&EnvMan (Hons) '99, BA '91, BSc '91 explores.

"I think colour is the most exciting element in painting today," says artist Dick Watkins.

In a few words, Watkins captures the essence of Birth of the Cool. It's an explosion of riotous colour that bursts through the doorway of the Drill Hall Gallery.

Birth of the Cool showcases the colourful abstract works by four artists - Sydney Ball, David Aspden, Michael Johnson and Watkins - painted between 1963 and 1973.

"Despite the work being nearly 50 years old, the exhibition has a remarkable freshness," exhibition curator and Drill Hall Gallery Director Terence Maloon says.

And it's true. Yellows, blues and reds bring bold, fresh ideas to life. It's hard to tell they come from a time before colour TV.

Following on from last year's Colour Music, Birth of the Cool develops on the theme of abstraction by concentrating on colour field painting.

Colour field painting began to emerge in the 1950s in the work of artists such as Barnet Newman, Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly.

But it really flourished in the early '60s.

It was a significant new development in abstract painting because recognisable imagery was completely eliminated.

Instead, artists shifted their focus onto the expressive powers of colour.

Each of the artists in this exhibition came to colour field abstraction though the more subdued form of landscape painting.

Maloon chose to exhibit these artists because he feels they had the longest, deepest engagement with this style.

"My sense was that they were very good artists who had never been given their due," he says.