The kangaroo in Australian painting

Aboriginal Wall painting in X-Ray Style, N.Australia
Aboriginal wall painting of kangaroo in X-Ray style. Aboriginal artists in general have continued to depict the kangaroo seriously in their paintings. From time immemorial to now.

Kangaroos are popular in some places…

Since I’ve been living in Sweden, I’ve found out how many people love australian animals. I had no idea that people all over the world love them.

When I was young, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it seemed to me that nobody cared much about australian animals in Australia. Well I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, though here’s the appalling extinction stats here. 

I remember going on a painting trip, when I was about 19, to the outback of New South Wales. We went to a pub one night after the days painting. It was filled with a bunch of rowdy drunk roo (kangaroo) shooters. Kicking back after the days shooting. Regaling us with the days stories.  I remember being horrified by their glee about it all.

'Kangaroo' by George Stubbs
George Stubbs painting above was commissioned by the botanist and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks.
Banks brought back to England, from his australian journey with Captain Cook in 1770, kangaroo skins and skulls. Stubbs used them as a basis for the painting.

Horror stories

There are routinely, in the australian news, horror stories about someone torturing kangaroos or other animals.

On the outskirts of Melbourne or any place in Australia, where there’s open bush, you’ll often see kangaroos. Many people see them as a menace. (They often jump across the road while you’re driving at night in the country.)

When I last lived in Melbourne, some young men in the outer suburb of Bundoora, decided to use them as shooting practice using a crossbow. They were caught, luckily. Perhaps if the negative attitude wasn’t so ingrained, you wouldn’t get this kind of insanity.

I think this attitude stems from the fact that, in Australia, images of kangaroos are used on everything from coins, coats of arms, films and tv, cartoons, clothing, children’s books, Qantas, football teams etc. Mostly they’re represented as a bit of a joke. Many people take them for granted.

gary shead 'From his series 'kangaroo'
Garry Shead ‘Kangaroo’ Oil  This painting is part of a series Shead completed in 1993 which was inspired by D H Lawrence’s novel ‘Kangaroo’.

A joke?

Just doing a google search many of the images (not photography) are comical and ridiculous.

In general, I found very few established australian painters that have used australian animals in their art in a non ironic way. Clifton Pugh, Garry SheadJohn Olsen were some old school artists that depicted them. There are others, but not many.

A few contemporary artists have used them as a way to raise political issues. And this is perfectly fine, but what I’m interested in is trying to capture the actual spirit of something. Not as commentary for something else.

john olsen 'kangaroo'1978 mixed media on paper
 John Olsen ‘Kangaroo’ 1978 Mixed media on paper
Drawing of Kangaroo and Bird by Reg Mombassa
Reg Mombassa ‘Drawing of kangaroo and bird’ 2004

Having gone through the process of art school in the 80’s, there was a belief that painting any animal at all was considered unworthy of a serious artist. Except as a joke or as political statement.

But it’s no joke what happens to kangaroos in Australia.

Perhaps that’s why australians find it difficult to represent them in a serious way, because they’re in collective denial about how they are actually treated?

Of course I haven’t done a painting of a kangaroo either. Something I’ll have to fix at some stage, because they really are the most amazing, unique creatures. 

The Endeavour Journal (1768-1771) by Sir Joseph Banks 

Captain Cook’s Kangaroo comes out of hiding.

Images of the kangaroo on Red Bubble 

Australian Society for Kangaroos

Australian Society for Kangaroos facebook page

From De Bruyn to Pasteur: Early Illustrations of the Kangaroo

Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns’ kangaroo sanctuary

Center for Compassionate Conservation

‘An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision.’

James Whistler


Twitter Art Exhibit 2017

The fun Twitter Art Exhibit this year is in Stratford Upon Avon in the UK. The exhibition runs from the 1st to 19th April.

The charity being supported this year (by sales of the art postcards) is Molly Olly’s Wishes, who do brilliant work for children with terminal or serious illness by making their ‘wishes’ come true and also by being there as a support for their families and giving away therapeutic toys and books that help the children understand the treatment they are receiving.

from Twitter Art Exhibit website

I’ve sent one of my pine landscapes again…close up mixed media trees by sue wellington

So if you’re interested in participating yourself, (from anywhere in the world as long as you have a twitter account) get your paints and pens out.

Deadline to get your work to the UK, is 17 March 2017.

All information about participating is at The Twitter Art Exhibit website. Or go to their twitter site.

Pastel Flying…

pastel sea sketch by sue wellington
soft pastel on cartridge paper 27.5 x 15.5cm (10.75 x 6 in)

This is my first attempt for many years – decades – at drawing with soft pastel. It’s a preliminary drawing for a sea oil painting, so it’s pretty rough.

I must say it was fun – the pastel just flows onto the paper so easily. The dust was flying.

I don’t know, at this stage, whether all that dust was normal… or whether I had the wrong paper. Well I know I had the wrong paper. It was cartridge and wouldn’t have had enough ‘tooth’ – or surface texture – in it.

The colour is so brilliant with soft pastels as it’s just pure pigment with a little gum binder.

Seasoned pastel artists build up their work by using pastel pencils or cheaper pastels and then do the final layers in their best quality soft pastels. I can understand that, as the pastels are expensive.

It’s hard to resist the lure of the pastel. Soft or otherwise.


Summer Threads and a Nude

I’m staying at my mother’s house at the moment and I found one of my old sketchbooks from 2009.

It’s always interesting looking through what you’ve done. Seeing any threads that you weren’t consciously aware of but that later developed more fully.

Sketchbook abstract Summer Landscape

One thread that I don’t really paint is the nude. Here’s a female nude I did at a life drawing meet. I must get back into it.

Sketchbook female nude

Leonie’s life drawing meets in Melbourne and is one of the best if you happen to be in Melbourne and love drawing live from the model.

Dear deer at the Back of Aleksandras House

deer at the back of aleksandras house watercolour by sue wellington
‘Deer at the Back of Alek’s and Johan’s House’ watercolour on Hahnemuhle veneto paper 10 x 7cm


Seeing ‘real’ deers are one of the joys of living in Sweden.

I’ll never get used to seeing deers- making themselves at home in people’s backyards here.

I didn’t grow up with deers. I grew up with kangaroos. (Though not really. You don’t really see them in the suburbs near the beach in Melbourne – though it is relatively easy to see them in the outer suburbs… where there’s open countryside.)

We visited a friend last weekend and I did this watercolor of the deer who was relaxing amongst the woodpile in the backyard.

Her neighbours can’t stand them and have built a fence to keep them out. You should be so lucky.

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