Lyrical Landscapes: The art of William Robinson

If you’re lucky enough to live in Queensland right now, don’t miss this once-in-a-life opportunity to see William Robinson’s epic collection of multi-panelled paintings produced throughout a 16-year period from 1988-2004 and inspired by his muse, the Gold Coast hinterland and his love of music.

This is HOTA Gallery’s second major exhibition within their new $60.5 million gallery space which spans six levels and is the largest public gallery outside of an Australian capital city. We’d give anything to see this show (we had tickets for August, alas…).

 

William Robinson AO, Creation Landscape- Darkness and light (detail); Fire mountain landscape, 1988, oil on linen. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1989

William Robinson

TOP: William Robinson AO, Creation Landscape- Darkness and light (detail); Fire mountain landscape, 1988, oil on linen. State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1989 / ABOVE: William Robinson

 

One of Australia’s greatest landscape painters, and living artists, William Robinson really is in a league of his own. He’s won the Archibald Prize twice - who can forget the quirk of his1995 winning entry Self-portrait with stunned mullet? And, he has two Wynne Prizes for landscape painting under his belt with 1996’s Creation Landscape - earth and sea, remembered by us as a kind of artistic epiphany when we first saw it at the AGNSW that year. We’d never seen anything like his unique aerial perspective, and we were just captivated, enthralled by his awe-inspiring imagery, nature seemingly conjured from the outside, in.

 

‘This HOTA exhibition means a tremendous amount to me, not only because the new gallery is a wonderful thing for the Gold Coast, but because I haven’t seen some of the pictures since I painted them. The Creation Series, for example. Some have come from private collections in London and New York.’ – William Robinson

 

This vibrant exhibition sees Robinson embrace the majesty, power, and inescapable influence of nature, with a series of works described by HOTA as: ‘A journey for all, be swept into a new world, built with lighting, drifting classical music, and a richly curated gallery experience.  Revel in the subtle pleasure, vibrating warmth, and overwhelming grace of the art of William Robinson.’

Combining Robinson’s gift for painting and creation with his passion for classical music, the exhibition’s guest curator, Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO (who just happens to be an old friend and major supporter of Robinson) helped produce this ‘experience’ exhibition where audiences can breathe in the rhythm and heartbeat of the Australia-scape alongside a bespoke musical score that layers visual and audio together to capture something well, other-worldly.

Captured through a series of ground-breaking masterpieces, the show includes seven large scale panels depicting the seven days of creation (drawn from the first few chapters of Genesis), alongside a suite of intimate studies and atmospheric lithographs.

 

Image- William Robinson AO, The Creation series (series of 5 paintings), 1988, oil on linen, 147.2 x 193cm (each). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1989

William Robinson,The rainforest, 1990, Oil on linen
 
TOP: William Robinson AO, The Creation series (series of 5 paintings), 1988, oil on linen, 147.2 x 193cm (each). State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia. Purchased 1989 / ABOVE: William Robinson, The rainforest, 1990 oil on linen.

 

This exquisite exhibition of works from the last 40 years highlights Robinson’s spiritual connection to the natural world and his deep fascination with the Queensland landscape in particular, wrapped as it is within his other passions: art, music, nature, and faith.

‘The artist employs compositional devices that assist in making the landscape so topsy turvy. In several works, the unorthodox placement of the sun – so typically radiating from above in Australian landscape painting – is made stranger still by the inversion of trees. Trunks simultaneously reach up and down, creating a sense of mystery and grandeur. These paintings seem to remind the viewer of how awe-inspiring and unfamiliar this landscape is to the untrained eye. Robinson also uses water as a crucial compositional device, and reflection is used to echo the sky – the clouds, moon and stars – to all-encompassing effect. As viewers, we too gaze upon these vistas with wonder and contemplation and the ever-changing natural phenomena.’*

 

Four seasons 1987 Oil on canvas Four panels: 137.5 x 188cm (each)  Commissioned 1987 with funds from the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited on the occasion of Australia’s Bicentenary 1988  Queensland Art Gallery

Panel 1, Four seasons 1987 Oil on canvas Four panels: 137.5 x 188cm (each)  Commissioned 1987 with funds from the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited on the occasion of Australia’s Bicentenary 1988  Queensland Art Gallery

 

This exhibition celebrates Robinson’s magic through a series of godly works that layer through concepts of divine providence and spiritual transcendence, enhanced by classical music. A trained pianist and music connoisseur, his energy-crammed paintings whisper through the silences, pauses, and inversions found in the compositions of Bach and other composers. The breaks between the mountain ranges, skies, and upended trees in the Creation series for example, share the beat and tonality of the musical compositions he listened to (while painting) in his studio.

 

‘I try to draw every day, but there are no big pictures anymore, I still practise the piano twice a day. One way of beating my [arthritic] ‘trigger fingers’ is to play the piano.’ – William Robinson, 85 years

 

Born and raised in Brisbane, Robinson took up residence on a 208-acre farm on the western slopes of Beechmont in the Gold Coast hinterland in 1984. Robinson and his wife Shirley share a strong connection with and to the earth. They were farmers for much of their lives and shared a passionate interest in sustainable land care and practices.

‘There, he would walk around and observe the surrounding sub-tropical rainforest, creating a time of reflection that revealed both the subtle pleasures and epic grace of the natural world around him.’*

This exhibition takes its starting point at The Rainforest (1990 Wynn Prize winner), painted at a turning point in William’s career, when he first started experimenting at the intersection of music and faith within his arts practice.

‘These works provide an insight into William’s practice and the creative relationships that inspired and informed his world. These landscapes can be seen as a world in which William traces the seven days of creation, expressed through the earth, sky, sea and the heavens…...’*

Williams is critically acclaimed for his arresting landscape compositions of Southeast Queensland rainforests and the seascapes of northern New South Wales. His shifting perspectives help audiences ‘see’ and connect to the landscape through a myriad of expressive deconstructions and minutely observed realities, realities he skilfully evokes – creating as he goes, an emotional, almost hallucinatory and dizzying effect.

Within and above, perspectives shift and change. In the time it takes a viewer to scan the work, patterns emerge in sky and clouds, reflections in the waterways and colours change to mirror the sun’s movement across days and even years. In the Creation series in particular – perhaps because of their majestic scale – the artist conveys a strong sense of being ‘immersed within the monumentality of the forest and of this experience being significant and spiritual in nature.’*

‘Robinson has depicted many of the geographical features of Springbrook, Beechmont, Purling Brook, Tallanbanna and Wollumbin (Mt Warning) including the ranges, gorges, pinnacles waterfalls, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean near Kingscliff. He has captured the ever-changing wonder of nature – and encourages us to think about our place in the universe.’*

Williams is also adored for his laconic humour and the unpretentious playfulness of his work. He graduated in 1962 from Brisbane’s Central Technical College and held a long and distinguished career teaching art before he won his first Archibald prize in 1987. At the time William’s winning portrait was the point of much commotion in the art world due to the artist’s low profile – a result of teaching in Brisbane and living off-grid in Beechmont, in the Gold Coast Hinterland’s Scenic Rim.

Having garnered critical acclaim and recognition for his painterly practice, Robinson left teaching in 1989 to work full time as an artist. His art has achieved national and international prominence. In 2001, Darkness and Light – The Art of William Robinson, was published to accompany a large-scale retrospective of some 90 works exhibited at the Queensland Art Gallery that same year (it toured to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra in 2002).

Robinson was honoured by the Queensland Government in 2004 as one of Queensland’s Greats. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by three Universities and in 2007 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his outstanding achievement and service to the arts. In 2009 the William Robinson Gallery was founded at Old Government House in QUT’s Garden’s Point Campus. His work is represented in all major Australian public art museums as well as in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Vatican Museums, Vatican City; and the British Museum, London.

 

‘The mixture of technical brilliance; logical, precise structure, and deep emotion found in Bach, is echoed in Robinson’s landscapes. One might analyse his paintings as musical compositions, looking for evidence of counterpoint, discord, and fugal forms. Stand in front of these paintings of the Australian bush, and the soundtrack that springs to mind is Bach’s Mass in B Minor. – John McDonald 2011

 

Williams himself describes his multiple perspective works as an exploration of the different ways we experience and see the world that we are part of. While walking through a bush forest, he suggests we look up, look down and drink in the majesty of it all.

Lyrical Landscapes: The art of William Robinson
31 July– 3 October
HOTA (Home of The Arts), Surfers Paradise

Book online here.

*HOTA

 

WORDS

Jennine Primmer