Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Goats (1983), the South­ern Downs Re­gional Coun­cil Art Col­lec­tion. Pur­chased 1983. On dis­play Stan­thorpe Re­gional Art Gallery, Stan­thorpe, Queens­land.

IT was the con­struc­tion of a free­way near Wil­liam Robin­son’s in­ner-city Bris­bane home that first en­cour­aged him to move to a farm in semi-ru­ral Birk­dale on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal in 1970.

It was a for­tu­itous de­ci­sion. The 3ha farm, with its chooks, cows, dogs, ducks and goats, pro­vided count­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for Robin­son to paint the farm­yard. All the an­i­mals were treated like mem­bers of the fam­ily and two cows in par­tic­u­lar, Josephine and Rosie, were of­ten the sub­jects of his paint­ings.

Robin­son por­trayed the chaos and dis­ar­ray of the farm with a quirky sense of hu­mour. The artist has ad­mit­ted that he wasn’t much of a farmer and has even com­mented that ‘‘ it was a dis­as­ter’’. De­spite this, he be­lieves all you can do is laugh at your­self if things get too chaotic.

When Robin­son won the Archibald Prize for the first time in 1987, he was nick­named the ‘‘ goat farmer’’. He also was lam­basted with rather deroga­tory news­pa­per head­lines such as: ‘‘ Re­luc­tant farmer wins Archibald’’, ‘‘ Queens­land goat farmer wins pres­ti­gious art prize’’ and ‘‘ Prize for paint­ing taken by goat man’’. But the ‘‘ goat farmer’’ tag was soon dropped with Robin­son’s two sub­se­quent wins in the Wynne (1990 and 1996) and Prize in 1995.

Robin­son was born in Bris­bane in 1936 and as a young man was in­ter­ested in art and mu­sic. He was tal­ented enough to play pi­ano with the Queens­land Sym­phony Orches­tra but de­cided to con­cen­trate on art and trained as a teacher. Mu­sic, how­ever, re­mained an in­te­gral part of his life. He plays pi­ano ev­ery day and notably lis­tens to Bach while he paints.

Robin­son’s early paint­ings of domestic in­te­ri­ors were in­flu­enced by French painter Pierre Bon­nard’s lu­mi­nous colour and po­etic ap­proach to as­pects of daily life.

How­ever, af­ter the move to the Birk­dale farm, Robin­son has said he dis­cov­ered some­thing that was com­pletely his own, ‘‘ a new way of look­ing at things’’.

His artis­tic devel­op­ment has cor­re­lated with changes in his home en­vi­ron­ment. ‘‘ My art is a Prize for land­scape his sec­ond Archibald vis­ual au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of my life,’’ he once stated. ‘‘ My con­cerns have been about the places where I have lived and th­ese have shaped my whole imag­i­na­tion.’’

Robin­son cer­tainly painted many im­ages from his time at Birk­dale and at an­other farm of 80ha at Beech­mont in Queens­land’s Gold Coast hin­ter­land.

One of th­ese pic­tures, Goats, is on dis­play at the re­gional gallery in Stan­thorpe, about 250km south­west of Bris­bane.

Like many of the farm­yard pic­tures, there is a flat back­ground and no hori­zon line. A cheeky fam­ily of goats peers out from be­hind a jum­ble of cor­ru­gated iron. And there among them, as if he is play­ing hide-and-seek, is the artist him­self, wear­ing a hat.

Goats was bought by the Stan­thorpe coun­cil in 1983 on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the judge of the lo­cal arts fes­ti­val, and at the time the shire coun­cil­lors were con­cerned they might be thought of as silly goats for buy­ing it, says El­speth Cameron, the gallery’s arts li­brar­ian.

How­ever, the pur­chase, at a time be­fore Robin­son be­came so high pro­file, ob­vi­ously has proved a success. Goats has been in­cluded, for in­stance, in im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tions at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia, the Queens­land Art Gallery and in Twelve De­grees of Latitude, a two-year trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing Queens­land’s 150th year.

‘‘ Th­ese goats bring a smile of recog­ni­tion to the face of any­one who has ever owned, ob­served or in­ter­acted with the crea­tures,’’ Cameron says. ‘‘ It does not sur­prise me to hear some vis­i­tors say: ‘ This is the best paint­ing I have ever seen.’ ’’

Be­sides Goats, on dis­play at the Stan­thorpe Re­gional Art Gallery, an ex­hi­bi­tion, Wil­liam Robin­son: In­sights is at the Wil­liam Robin­son Gallery, Old Government House, Bris­bane, un­til June next year.

Oil on can­vas, 124cm x 182cm

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