27. WILLIAM ROBINSON
William Robinson is one of Australia’s most acclaimed living artists, renowned for his immersive and captivating interpretations of the landscape. Unlike the familiar scenes that dominate much of the Australian landscape tradition – recurring depictions of the desert, bush and coast – Robinson offers images of the verdant forests of south-east Queensland.
Bright Day, Tallanbanna 2000 reflects Robinson’s deep study of the Springbrook National Park, which features in many of his works. This is a World Heritage listed area in the Gold Coast hinterland, where spectacular cliffs, waterfalls, sub-tropical rainforests and eucalypt forests populate the site of an ancient volcano. Robinson began exploring this unique region when he moved to an eighty hectare property in nearby Beechmont in 1984. The decade he spent here saw a marked transition in his work. Through his persistent engagement with this environment, Robinson developed an exceptional vision of the Australian landscape. When he relocated to Kingscliff, New South Wales, in 1994, Robinson set up a second studio at Springbrook to continue this practice.
In Bright Day, Tallanbanna 2000, Robinson offers an evocative interpretation of the forest, which he walked through every day. This is revealed in the naturalistic treatment of the vegetation, which is unsettled by the way that space is layered and distorted. Robinson generates multiple perspectives in the composition, and the viewpoint shifts across the work. The trees stretch out across the canvas, their odd angles creating a sense of movement, as if the viewer is actually within the forest. This painting demonstrates Robinson’s interest in light – here, light is clear and pervasive, filtering through the open space of the distant background.
Discussing Morning Tallanbanna 1998, Robinson explained that ‘memory is always very important to me. The actual place itself and nature are the triggering devices. The work is completed in the memory. I find that if memory lacks absolute accuracy, it allows something else to occur in a painting, perhaps something fresh and unpredictable. I feel best when I am painting with a concern for the surface and life of the work’.1
Born in Brisbane in 1936, Robinson only turned to art full-time in 1989, at age fifty three. He spent over thirty years as an art teacher, during which time he exhibited regularly, from his first show in 1967 to his career-changing inclusion in the Sydney Biennale of 1986. In 1990, Robinson made his first trip to Europe, returning four times within the following decade to visit Belgium, England, France, Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain and The Netherlands. This choice to travel prompted another turning point in his career, as studying European art in situ encouraged new perspectives and motivations.
Robinson offers an insight into how travel inspired his work in Australia, remarking on Springbrook with Lifting Fog 1999: ‘I was thinking of Chartres which at that time wasn’t cleaned up. It was green in colour and had lots of little plants growing out of it, even some little trees. Inside it was, I thought, the most spiritually beautiful church I had ever been in…. this great darkness and stillness and iridescent beauty. When I was walking in the rainforest it reminded me of that time.’2
Robinson’s work is represented in Australian federal, state and regional collections, as well as internationally in the Vatican Museums, the Auckland Art Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Robinson was awarded Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1987 and 1995 and the Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1990 and 1996. He also has honorary doctorates from Griffith University, the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology, where The William Robinson Gallery opened in 2009, the first Australian public gallery dedicated to a living artist.
1. Klepac, L., William Robinson, Beagle Press, Sydney, 2001, p.132
2. Robinson quoted in a speech by Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Brisbane, 2011, www.gg.gov.au/speech/william-robinson-exhibition-and-75th-birthday
Dr Kate Robertson PhD