‘If he’s not recorded in the book, he probably wrote it’ is a common reference to Elwyn Lynn. Artist, writer, teacher, administrator and critic, his contribution to Australian art was wide and varied with the eternal legacies being his writing and his artworks.
Considered to be Australia’s foremost textural painter Lynn’s pictures are as sharp today as they were when first painted, and it isn’t uncommon to see a confused stare when it is explained to an interested observer that a picture by Lynn was painted in Australia 50 or more years ago. He was doing then, what others are discovering today.
Visual, tactile and with intellectual appeal Lynn often posed questions through his titles and encouraged his audience to seek further answers “Hi” was painted in 1968 when he was teaching in Sydney at the Cleveland St Boy’s High School. It was also a time he was reacquainting himself with the international art movements that he feared were passing Australia by.
By his earlier standards the texture of “Hi” is minimal as is its literal component, though his abstracted palette remains consistent. The work is restrained though containing an element of humour. Is “Hi” the greeting from a chipped tooth student at the beginning of a new school year or is it Lynn’s own greeting to his modified technique that would reduce the grainy surface and increase collage? Prehaps it is neither, but regardless of the riddle of the title “Hi” is an example of early Australian abstraction and important to Lynn’s oeuvre.
In the early phase of his career, Robert Juniper (and other Western Australian painters) developed in isolation, far away from Melbourne and Sydney, the apparent centres of the Australian art scene. Juniper became thankful for that remoteness as it allowed him to develop at his own pace and free from the effects of the fashion and art movements that were sweeping through those centres.
He did have doubts about being isolated, and they surfaced from time to time but soon passed and he was able to grow as a painter. Juniper also had a teaching career that provided for the family and afforded him the freedom to paint as he wished – “I can think of nothing worse than going into the studio and thinking I’ve got to feed the family.”
In an interview with Laurie Thomas in 1969 Robert Juniper said, “I think it is a painter’s duty if not his goal to be himself – to paint from his own experience, what’s inside him and not from the glossy magazines.” Thomas considered that Juniper had a poetic feeling for the Australian landscape. “I feel that I’m developing what I feel is an indigenous thing – indigenous to Western Australia – because I don’t feel any strong influence from anywhere else,” was another quote from the Thomas interview. Juniper is correct in his assessment, as his work is free from outside influence though others have been influenced by his work.
With this work “John Forrest Rocks”, Juniper has painted a portrait of the landscape not far from his home range of Darlington. He has isolated a group of engaging rocks (that appear in many of his drawings) surrounded by minimal vegetation that may or may not exist. The trees and shrubs form an important part of the composition and are drawn or incised in a manner that is unmistakably his – this is not a literal scene but the essence of a memory – his sense of order and design is impeccable. Silvery tones, slippery surfaces and withdrawn colour indicate winter as the season.
On closer inspection of the picture, the over painting, incised lines and build up of texture come into view. He has worked and scraper and layered different medium in the hunt of the effect he seeks. Juniper uses whatever tools are available in this pursuit – nothing is sacred. In a television film of the 90’s he explained that his children often complained when they found their toothbrushes, combs and hairbrushes in their fathers studio – appropriated in the cause of art – though always quickly replaced.
For over 50 years, Robert Juniper has lived and worked in Darlington, a hills location 20 kilometers east of Perth, surrounded by the trees and landscape he captures on canvas so distinctively.
Stacha Halpern was bourn in Poland in 1919 and immigrated to Australia in 1939 following the Nazi occupation of Poland. He lived in Melbourne and in 1951 left to travel through Europe where he began experimenting with expressionistic portraiture.
Stacha Halpern’s paintings are not easy to forget, he would bound them with energy and verve that didn’t stop until they were completed. They leave an indelible impression in one’s mind, and love them or hate them, one never forgets them.
Halpern returned to Australia in 1966, but the reception his work received was disappointing. The scrap between the abstractionists and antipodeans was still in play and despite a sucessful career in France, the Australian public wasn’t ready for a naturalised expatriate whose images seemed to have a foot in both camps – figurative with the antipodeans and expressionist with the others.
Stan Rapotec another émigré would say of his own career, after he was mistaken for an overnight sensation”… I firmly and strongly believe now, that to build up an artist in any field you need twenty years of struggle – struggling, battling, performing, experimenting, exercising and, yes, exposing oneself in one’s work to the full brunt of criticism.” Halpern had already served an apprenticeship in Paris – he had achieved prominence and success there in just fifteen years but that didn’t count in Australia, he still had his time to serve and one can be confident in saying that he would have given the time, as above all else including his Polish birthplace and his European successes he considered himself to be Australian.
Sorry to say he didn’t have another twenty years to give and died through heart disease in 1969 – three years after his return.
Halpern’s position and effect in the International art scene of the 60’s is finally being respected in Australia. A PArisian art critic referred to him as an example of what young French artists should aspire to, he hung in galleries along side Rothko, Guston and Frankenthaler. His works were exhibited at group and solo shows in Paris, Rome, New York, Amsterdam, Basle and Milan. And unlike many of those that preceded him to Europe he was to heave a real effect in the art scene, particularly in Paris.
It would take almost three decades before Australia could step up to the mark, even though Halpern had champions along the way, desperately wanting to help others to see.
The gods reside in the mountains and the sea is home to the demons – or so the Balinese believe. Donald Friend took advantage of the local superstitions and was able to acquire prime waterfront property in Sanur to build his grand house and create an outstanding garden – land with ocean views was not highly regarded by the Balinese in the 60’s, after all who in their right mind would want to gaze upon the province of demons.
Donald Friend was named “Tuan Rakshasa” or Lord Devil. His residence overlooked an island where a ferocious demon lived and one could imagine his delight in the title the locals had bestowed upon him. His nature was to engulf those around him, be they family, friends or acquaintances and to be referred to as the devil let alone Lord Devil caused him no end of mirth.
“Tuan Rakshasa” lived an opulent life in Bali and became a collector of local paintings, bronzes and artefacts, many of which found their way to Australian museums and state galleries. In addition to painting the scenes of daily life and legends that proliferate in Bali he produced a number of manuscripts for books, some of which he published, “Donald Friend in Bali” and “Bumboozania” being two of the better known – both displayed his wits, skills of observation and talent as a writer.
He was impressed by many of the serious works painted in Bali. One painter in particular was Ida Bagus Rai the now well-known and highly collectable artist – Friend after seeing his work and using his network would meet him. In his inimitable style Friend was to write of Bagus Rai “he has innocence – and very bright eyes like a robins, sharply observant, quick, inquisitive, set in a net of wrinkles of constant laughter. … He is a tiny little man, about sixty years old, gentle, moved by an exquisite and courteous kindness, and full of jokes. He is timid, old fashioned, high-caste and poor as the poorest church mouse.” Ida Bagus Rai lived at Donald Friend’s house for many years and held a prestigious position in the household – he was known by the locals to have Tuan Rakshasa’s ear. Though seemingly aloof, Donald Friend was generous and caring to those around him.
Sales of Friend’s artwork was strong and enabled him to maintain and support a conspicuous life style that included houseboys and gardens. If not through a combination of ill health and bureaucratic interference visa extensions were becoming difficult – Donal Friend would have ended his days on that island even though he was downhearted about the changes Bali was undergoing. Tourists were arriving in number and the landscape was losing its innocence. Friend was to say “I have no more faith in this place -or rather in my ability to stay on and survive here.” He left Bali in 1980 fourteen years after arriving, on what was only intended as a stop over.
Night Fishing was painted in Sanur when it was mainly a fishing village and superstitions were strong. Friend has drawn on a local legend as the subject of his painting and completed it in his unmistakable style. The demon in this image is most probably the fanged Djero Geide Metajaling who lived on the island of Nusa Penida which was visible from Donald Friend’s house – night was the time the demons were active and their strength was at its most heightened. This work Night Fishing was one of the main reproductions used in his book “Donald Friend in Bali” and demonstrated the proportion demons and spirits occupy in the supernatural belief of the locals. It is a foremost work in Friend’s oeuvre.
Painter, print maker and potter, Guy Grey-Smith was a multi talented artist whose influence in Western Australian art circles was only equalled by that of JWR Linton.
At the start of his career, Grey-Smith was a modernist and his interpretation of a scene was quite literal using high key colours and a cubist technique to delineate form. For the Western Australian art buyer of the 1950’s his manner was bold and unconventional and his spectators were found with curators, fellow painters and the younger generation of art buyers. Needless to say sale of his paintings didn’t enable him to earn the income to sustain a family so he taught part time and sold functional and decorative pottery from his home and studio in Darlington.
In the early 1960’s he deviated from his modernist method and pursued an abstract style that was influenced by Nicolas De Stael. His palette didn’t alter greatly to that of his modernist period but as he preferred to paint in a robust manner he introduced a beeswax emulsion to the medium that allowed him to trowel the paint on to his board and add an additional physicality to the act of painting. He also painted on a grander scale and begun to focus on the north of the state particularly in the Mount Augustus region.
The Saw Millers was painted in 1974 the same year he moved to Pemberton which is a timber town in the south of Western Australia. In this work his tone captures the cool and moisture laden atmosphere of the south west in contrast to the heat and dry of the North West where he was equally at home. Grey-Smith would describe his work as having “… not a visual truth but a truth of feeling.“
Grey-Smith’s figurative work in his abstract style was generally restricted to static nudes or portraits but in this work he has introduced movement. It is not the literal movement but the feeling of movement that he aspired to.
The North of Western Australia has provided numerous subjects for Allan Bakers paintings and this image of a stockman is one of the more imposing.
The impressive figure is to the forefront – he is a solid man of undetermined age who exhibits an air of confidence that only one skilled in his chosen field can exude.
Baker required, through the use of light and shadow, the viewer’s inspection of this person before allowing the eye to drift to the activity behind.
The landscape is featureless and the buildings are positioned to create depth. There is a gentle breeze causing an undergarment to dance in reply in a seemingly surreal moment. The woman in her billowing red dress struggling to hang the bed sheet on the clothesline adds extra activity and a touch of humour to the scene, as she stretches to her limits to complete the task at hand. Breeze and a bed sheet do not make good companions when a clothesline awaits.
We could consider that the woman and stockman are partners and he is waiting for her to finish her work before setting out together for a home out of picture. It is the end of the day after all as the shadows are long and darkness is encroaching from the east.
Allan Baker tells stories. They are not always instantly obvious but after considering the image the narrative develops and he engages the viewer in so subtle a manner. Far from being a portrait of a stockman he has captured a moment in the day and though he has provided many of the answers – he allows the viewers to add a bit themselves.
Baker has never involved himself with paint quality or texture; it is mainly chiaroscuro, design and story no matter how subtle. This picture shows him at his best and it is an important painting to his oeuvre.
Life in Australia during the early 1890’s was fraught with hardship. The colonies were not yet united and in the grip of a severe depression. Banks and building societies were collapsing and numerous small businesses were closing and being placed into liquidation.
To add to the woes a severe drought had settled across the land. The price of wool, long known as the backbone of the colonies, had halved as had the sheep numbers, falling from a record peak of 106 million in the 1880’s to 60 million by 1890. The drought and lack of liquidity eroded the living standards of most and shattered the hopes of many.
The 1890’s were also close to the time when a national identity in art was established. A few years earlier Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts were instrumental in developing a palette to reflect the colour of the Australian landscape. The change in colour was widely acknowledged across the artistic community and Sydney’s leading painter of the era William Lister Lister would say “As a result of our English training Fullwood and myself were painting in low tones, but after seeing Streeton’s work, we began to observe that the colour and atmosphere of the landscape were brighter than we had previously realised.”
This piece Newbold Crossing is an example of Fullwood’s work from 1890’s. The brushwork and colour is an endorsement of Streeton’s theories and influence. When this work was painted, Fullwood, Streeton and others including Julian Ashton and Tom Roberts worked and lived in the harbour camp at Mosman Bay, which was one of a number of established sites scattered around Sydney. These well-established camps were for men who could not afford to live in town and gave a degree of comfort that living rough couldn’t equal. Each camp came with a cook and the cost of accommodation was £1 per week.
Newbold Crossing is a complicated work and contains a number of messages. It depicts the effect of unrestrained clearing and over grazing by hard hoofed animals on the landscape. The ring barked trees are clearly visible and as with the land the people on the deep rutted track are a couple with an uncertain future before them. With their worldly goods and billy in hand the husband wife are setting forth into the unknown. They are on the Wallaby Track, that mythical track that swagmen followed around the countryside in pursuit of food, lodgings and (hopefully) employment. To increase the drama of the scene and with two deft strokes of his brush Fullwood has introduced a baby into the subject and the couple turn into a young family.
More than a landscape this work is a social commentary that’s poignancy has been lost with time. Fullwood has linked the condition of the land to that of its inhabitants in a subtle and non-confrontational manner – both the land and its people have an uncertain future before them and though the scene may appear idyllic, it is anything but.
There is a similarity in dramatic intent included in Streeton’s Fire’s on Lapstone Tunnel which was painted in 1891. In addition to the majesty of the Blue Mountain landscape Streeton has added the non-intrusive side drama of workmen carrying on a stretcher a deceased compatriot from the mouth of the tunnel. As with Fullwood in Newbold Crossing Streeton was asking the viewer to look further than the obvious – this landscape is filled with human drama.
In 1896 Frederick McCubbin was to paint a large narrative and romantic work titled “On The Wallaby” depicting a swagman with his wife and baby in camp. There is no suggestion of romance in this piece by Fullwood. It is a simple statement of the facts of the day, painted in the new style the time.
Prior to “Fire’s On Lapstone Tunnel,” Streeton’s work was a celebration of the Australian landscape and light, sometimes populated with people at play, work or leisure. Not before Fire’s On Lapstone Tunnel had the tragedy associated with working life been evident in his pictures. Perhaps Fullwood was able to share with Streeton an ability to casually introduce a narrative into a landscape, making the picture compelling viewing from any distance and containing the narrative not immediately obvious.
An inscription on the reverse of this painting announces. “Swan River Bar WA. Before it was opened up for (the) Harbour. Painted by Captain Russell Harbour Master, given to me 1896 – WA Gale.”
As with most Victorian gentlemen, sketching and painting formed part of their education and this is not the first piece by Captain Charles Russell R.N. to appear. Examples of his works are included in the collection of the Western Australian Museum and they comprise of pieces painted in 1886 on his voyage from England to Fremantle where he was to take up the duties of Chief Harbour Master, a very important colonial position. Captain Russell was to remain in that position until retiring in 1902.
When he arrived in 1886 with his wife and daughter the Fremantle Harbour facilities consisted of the Long Jetty that was previously known as the Ocean Jetty. Extensions in 1883 caused a name change and the Long Jetty was to remain the principal port facility for Perth and surrounding districts until the new harbour was opened in 1897. Victoria Quay, as it was named, provided an extra 2360 feet (720 metres) of wharfage for shipping.
As Cheif Harbour Master, Captain Russell was also in charge of The Harbour and Light Department which placed under his care all maritime matters related to the state, including care and maintenance of lighthouses and navigation aids. The ports of Albany, Busselton, Bunbury, Geraldton, Dennison and Cossack formed part of the department’s responsibilities and the administration of the shipping and piloting legislation was another function it performed. The Chief Harbour Master was also in charge of refloating grounded ships, investigating and reporting on shipwrecks and rescuing shipwrecked sailors. The responsibilities of rescue and investigation were often tasks Captain Russell assumed himself.
In addition to reporting to parliament the Chief Harbour Master was frequently under the eye of the press. Criticisms or differences of opinion were not unknown to him and he handled such matters with composure and decorum. He made a strong contribution to the development of Western Australia and held the respect of his colleagues and ship owners alike. In the West Australian of July 4 1899 Sir John Forrest was reported as saying “…and those who knew Captain Russell as he [Sir John] did would not say that the gentleman was anything but a cautious man or likely to give an opinion which was not justified.”
Upon his retirement and prior to his return to England in 1902 his colleagues at the Harbour Department presented him with a purse of gold sovereigns. The shipowners, as a gesture of appreciation, also made a presentation to him of another purse of gold sovereigns in the offices of The Adelaide Steamship Company. During an address to the gathering Mr WE Moxon was reported in the West Australian of April 1902 as saying to Captain Russell on the eve of his departure to England “your position during a period of very great stress upon the capacity of Harbour Master has been unique, owing to the very great rush of shipping during a portion of time, to a young and underdeveloped port – a condition of affairs so far as the facilities of the Port of Fremantle is concerned which has been in a great measure removed.”
In reply to the kind words Captain Russell was respectful but not without criticism of the government. He gave a brief run down of the challenges the new harbour had caused him and he also expressed disappointment at government spending cuts, particularly in the closing of the survey section of the Harbour and Light Department.
He held the view that the government steamer Victoria could be put to better use in surveying the North West Coast.
In the Western Mail April 1902 Captain Russell was reported to have said “there is an immense amount of work to be done on the North West coast. To my mind running the bottom of a ship into a reef was not the proper way of locating it.”
This picture of the Fremantle Bar was painted around 1891 from the Harbour Master’s residence at Arthur’s Head. The residence had good views of Fremantle and the surroundings including the jetty at the foot of Cliff Street, where goods were loaded onto flat bottom barges for the journey up river to Perth.
It was probably a Sunday afternoon when Captain Russell painted this work as there is little activity on the jetty, and a barge with full sail heads round the bar for the up river trip to Perth. It was the habit to use the afternoon coastal breeze for the Fremantle to Perth leg and the morning land breeze for the return. In the 1890’s Sunday was ideally a day of rest and in all likelihood the only time a person with Captain Russell’s workload could find the time to relax, take in the view and record it.
The position of the formidable bar at the river mouth, with warning marker on the ocean side of its farthest extremity is clearly visible and the scale of the task in removing this obstacle becomes obvious. 799,250 cubic yards (610,000 cubic metres) of coralline rock was shattered and removed by the dredges Fremantle and Parmelia and, the dredge Premier removed 692,000 cubic yards (529,000 cubic metres) of sand, a portion of which was used in reclamation for the harbour and the majority of it being dumped at sea. All dredges worked day and night to complete the task.
In addition to the stone quarried from Rocky Bay some of the material excavated from the bar was used in the construction of the north and south moles. The moles were an important component of CY O’Connor’s harbour design and at the forefront of harbour construction as they protected the river mouth from the swells and rough weather delivered by the Indian Ocean. Some of the pieces of stone quarried from Rock Bay weighed 26 ton.
The north bank of the river is shown in a near unspoiled condition with tall and heavily vegetated sand dunes. These features were removed when the North Wharf was developed in 1902 and industry needed land close to the harbour. The population of Western Australia in 1891 was around 53,000 and it would be another 4 years before the diggers would arrive by the shipload seeking fame and fortune on the goldfields and double the colonies population, and then double it again by 1901.
This painting is one of the few on record showing the Swan River Bar in its entirety and it’s proximity to Willis Point. Both the Fremantle Bar and Willis Point were reclaimed during the building of Victoria Quay.
WA Gale who is credited with the inscription on the back of this work is most likely to be Walter Augustus Gale (1864-1927) a protégé of Sir John Forrest. In 1896 he was the clerk and librarian of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly and would have known Captain Russell through the number of official functions they attended.