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