They painted par­adise

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - THE GROVE -

TO the Is­lands, a sub­tle, smal­ls­cale ex­hi­bi­tion now on view in Cairns (un­til March 9), pre­sents the work of a distin­guished se­ries of artis­tic pil­grims and tells their tale.

It is that rare thing: a pub­lic gallery show that recon­ceives its sub­ject and brings a fresh distinc­tion to its cast of char­ac­ters. As cu­ra­tor Ross Searle ar­gues, the rep­u­ta­tion of these is­land artists as pi­o­neers of Aus­tralian paint­ing is un­der­done and the prob­lem is gen­eral.

There continues to be a whole­sale lack of recog­ni­tion of the con­tri­bu­tion of re­gional artists to the over­all canon of Aus­tralian art his­tory, he says.

Re­gional gal­leries such as those of Townsville and Cairns have a clear man­date to re­dress this ne­glect, and this show is a vi­tal ad­vance. The is­lands of Dunk, Bedarra and Ti­mana are the uni­fy­ing theme and key sub­jects.

Noel Wood is now largely for­got­ten, de­spite the fame he en­joyed at the mid-point of his long ca­reer. Wood came from Mel­bourne with his young fam­ily in 1936.

He chose Bedarra as his place and his work came to­gether there: he caught the green of the jun­gle and the red of the soil; he be­came a recorder of clouds and sky, shad­ows and the gleam of sun on palm and vine. He sent his work south, and it was rap­tur­ously re­ceived. In de­pres­sion-era Mel­bourne, his vivid im­ages seemed like dreams of a per­fect life.

Re­view­ers dwelled not on his meth­ods or the in­flu­ences in his works, but their ex­oti­cism: Mr Wood re­joices in the lush colour of it all the hard blue shad­ows, the pale green and the dark green, the flat grey of a bay un­der a rain shower.

The Queens­land Art Gallery bought one of Wood’s most re­solved and em­blem­atic pieces, The path to Ban­field’s old home. It is a scene of glar­ing sun­light and stark shadow con­trasts, the con­tours of the land­scape picked out by the red slash of the dirt track that bi­sects the work.

Other artists soon fol­lowed Wood’s lead. The first was Va­lerie Al­bis­ton, who trav­elled as far north as pos­si­ble in flight from an un­happy love af­fair, and stum­bled on Ti­mana Is­land.

She con­tacted her sis­ter, Yvonne Co­hen, who joined her. Their paint­ings have an im­me­di­acy and a tone of sheer re­spon­sive­ness to na­ture.

Later years counted Fred Wil­liams among painters who found in­spi­ra­tion in the is­lands.

Wil­liams was ex­cited by the chal­lenges of switch­ing his pal­ette to new rich colours.

These col­lected works are mod­est records of an en­counter: they are pre­sented here with­out a sin­gle false note in the en­sem­ble.

Many re­gional gallery ex­hi­bi­tion pro­grams strug­gle for rel­e­vance, but Cairns and Townsville have their great themes, which have guided their land­mark shows over the past two decades: the north­ern land­scape, the trop­ics and their im­pact on the imag­i­na­tion and the eye.

To the Is­lands is at the Cairns Re­gional Gallery un­til March 9.

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