William Robinson ‘Nerang River Pool’
Here’s a painting by the Australian painter William Robinson (born Brisbane 1936-). I think he’s one of the best painters in the world currently working.
In his recent work he mainly paints the coastal rainforest of Queensland, Australia. These are not simple, cursory paintings. Paint slapped on. They have a richly painted, subtle surface that has the quality of a natural form like a bird’s nest or a spider’s web. Every square inch is sensitively modulated and to a purpose.
One of the first things you notice is the perspective. Which way am I looking? Up, down or through? The genius of Robinson is that it’s all three and he weaves these together seamlessly just like our own perceptions when looking and experiencing things. This is also related to the visual merging and ‘messiness’ of forms in the Australian bush and it’s an essential characteristic. You’d be lying if you had everything neat and tidy. But it’s not a mess as he ties it all up with a simple elemental composition of circle and partial spheres which create a kind of net tying everything together.
Here’s what he says about his technique.
‘I tend to do a lot of pencil sketches, more scribbles. All my paintings come out of scribbly things I’ve observed and noted. I sketch a painting very loosely on the canvas in charcoal, then leave it to develop in strength; I build up a rapport with this skeleton, then I paint it. Rather than paint all over the canvas, and build a work that way, I start from the top or the side in, and totally finish a section as I go. I often start with the sky – it’s like looking into a person’s eyes, it usually gives me the key the piece is written in. Colour fascinates me, colour is everything. I like to work wet on wet, to go back into the paint when it is wet, rather than scumbling another layer over the top of dry colours. I’m a slow painter, but I am consistent.’
Notice that he finishes the painting in sections which is quite unusual these days. Most artists work over the whole painting simultaneously as I do to create a unity of form mainly. I think it’s incredible that he manages to create visual unity using this method with this particular subject matter. But I suppose by the time he starts putting paint down he’s obviously thoroughly worked through the problems based on the charcoal drawing and many years painting experience. To my mind it can only come from an artist who can clearly perceive the spiritual heart of life. The interconnectedness of every living thing.
They are simply stunning paintings full of light and metaphysical mystery.
Here’s an interesting 2005 article on William Robinson: ‘Outsider at peace amongst the ethereal and sublime.’
The artist, quoted in Janet Hawley, ‘William Robinson’s mature perspective’, Age, 20 August 1994, Magazine p. 33.
‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.’