Memories of Ern Malley
My half-sister Tess van Sommers was a co-conspirator in the Ern Malley scam of 1943. I found myself wondering whether the review of Tony Tuckson’s works on paper (Patrick Hartigan, “Proving reality”, August 19-25) was itself an Ern Malley item or perhaps a response to a set of Ern Malley artworks. What convinced me that neither were put-ons was the quality of the reproduced works. I don’t mean that they were too good, but on account of how solidly empty they appear. In the Ern Malley follow-up and for many years thereafter, both the work and its “author” were defended by many on the grounds that the poems actually had substantial literary merit that arose out of the supposed inability of their authors to produce fair-dinkum junk. What makes me sure that the images reproduced in your periodical are not “Ern Malley” fabrications is because as visual art they appear so honestly vacuous. If Tess, the daughter of our artist father Jack Sommers, had been given the job of creating Ern Malley visual art, I’m sure she would have synthesised items with just enough accidental compositional structure or emotional meaning to make them look kosher.