Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish, 1954. Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia art col­lec­tion, gift of Dr and Mrs RK Con­sta­ble, 1985. On dis­play, Lawrence Wil­son Art Gallery, UWA, Perth, un­til July 13.

WHEN Robert Ju­niper’s St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish won the Perth Prize for Con­tem­po­rary Art in 1954 it was a con­tro­ver­sial win­ner. Even though the prize was pur­port­edly for con­tem­po­rary art, such were the sen­si­bil­i­ties of the 1950s that Ju­niper’s paint­ing was be­wil­der­ing for the pub­lic be­cause it broke away from the fa­mil­iar­ity and for­mula of re­al­ist paint­ing.

The pic­ture was pro­duced at the be­gin­ning of Ju­niper’s ca­reer. Just be­fore win­ning the Perth prize, he had stud­ied com­mer­cial art and in­dus­trial de­sign in Eng­land at the Beck­en­ham School of Art from 1943 to 1947.

He re­turned to Aus­tralia in 1949 with an ad­mi­ra­tion of con­tem­po­rary English paint­ing. Once home, he was also in­flu­enced by a tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, French Paint­ing To­day, which he saw in Perth in 1953.

St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish, with its board ar­eas of paint ap­plied with a palette knife, strongly em­pha­sised out­lines, shal­low sense of depth and high-keyed colours, re­flects Ju­niper’s early stylis­tic con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to arts writer Jan­ice Baker.

There is also the use of a re­cur­ring mo­tif that be­came in­dica­tive of Ju­niper’s art, in this case a green flower.

When I visit the Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia in Perth, I’m shown St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish by Ted Snell, di­rec­tor of Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia Mu­se­ums (and also The Aus­tralian’s WA art critic), and Sally Quin, cu­ra­tor, Lawrence Wil­son Art Gallery, who tell me this is the ear­li­est work by the artist in the univer­sity’s col­lec­tion.

Ju­niper, who was born in 1929 in the West Aus­tralian wheat-belt town of Merredin, died last year, aged 83.

He was one of the state’s most pop­u­lar artists and was so val­ued that in 1998 he was recog­nised as a Liv­ing Trea­sure.

He was best known for his highly in­di­vid­ual, lyri­cal de­pic­tions of the West Aus­tralian land­scape, of­ten com­posed from the un­tra­di­tional per­spec­tive of view­ing the land from above. In­ter­est­ingly, he rarely sketched, re­ly­ing on rec­ol­lec­tion to cre­ate his works. On the sub­ject of his land­scape paint­ing, he once said: ‘‘ I started paint­ing the land­scape distressed by the re­cent ar­rivals who took what they wanted and then de­parted, leav­ing the de­tri­tus of their works and life­style, show­ing the same dis­dain for the land as they had for the Abo­rig­ines.’’

Ju­niper’s early ca­reer was sup­ported by Perth art dealer Rose Skinner who, with her hus­band, Joe, opened Skinner Gal­leries in 1958. Dur­ing the late 50s Ju­niper joined forces with Guy Grey-Smith, Brian McKay and Tom Gib­bons to ex­plore ab­strac­tion. This group ex­hib­ited three times as the Perth Group at the Skinner Gal­leries.

‘‘ Rose Skinner picked Bob Ju­niper up as a lo­cal young man who she thought had tal­ent,’’ says Snell. ‘‘ Rose was also madly at­tracted to him and took him off to Europe as well. Bob was al­ways in­ter­ested in sur­face, and sur­face was al­most the key el­e­ment in all of his prac­tice. So ev­ery­thing is al­ways very flat, and this is in­dica­tive of his in­flu­ences, such as Paul Klee and the School of Paris.

‘‘ In some ways St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish is atyp­i­cal be­cause it is a fairly early work. Later, he be­gan to put plas­ter on to raw can­vas, em­bed­ding leaves in it, drag­ging plas­ter over the sur­face. Then he would stain it and get this rough earth-like qual­ity.

‘‘ But St Xavier’s Thorn and a Fetish shows a young man re­ally push­ing at the bound­aries and re­ally try­ing to find his own lan­guage, so it is one of those key works which al­most un­locks a prac­tice later on. There are a lot of ‘ Ah, ha!’ mo­ments in this paint­ing.’’

Oil on board, 54cm x 74cm

Robert Ju­niper in 2009

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.