Category Archives: australia

William Robinson: landscape painter extraordinaire

William Robinson ‘Nerang River Pool’

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.’

Georgia O’Keefe


Landscape painter Eugene Von Guerard: Nature Revealed or not?

Painting of 'Tower Hill' by Eugene-von-Guérard

Eugene Von Guerard  ‘Tower Hill’ 1855  Oil on Canvas

I caught up with a painting buddy in Melbourne recently and we went to an exhibition of Eugene Von Guerard’s (1811-1901) paintings and drawings at NGV Australia. We had a great time talking about everything except the Von Guerard paintings and probably annoyed everyone in the gallery who were so quiet and pious in their viewing. Strange. Does it have to be that quiet?

‘Nature Revealed’ is the title of the exhibition. I don’t know whether it’s quite true of his paintings for me but it’s a very comprehensive and enjoyable exhibition of his work. Originally born in Austria he came to Australia in 1852 to join in on the gold rush in Victoria like thousands of others from all over the world. Didn’t discover much gold but he did discover the landscape and decided painting commisions for rich pastoralists was more lucrative.

Most Victorians are quite familiar with his paintings from childhood as he painted much of the Victorian landscape in his 19th century German picturesque style. We had ‘Woodlands’ (1869) at home which I loved.

It’s highly detailed painting. Kind of naive. Sometimes it seems like a scene from somewhere on the Nile. I don’t think he got the Australian light right but he tried. It’s too soft by half but he did get the colour of the sea occasionally and made a great attempt at the flora and fauna. This has so much accuracy that for example the painting at the top was used as a botanical template over a century later when the government wanted to reforest the area with native flora. Good on you Von Guerard.

Take a look at ‘Nature Revealed’ if you happen to be in Melbourne and are into landscape painting. And if you can’t be there during it’s run, there’s a few permanently on display at the same gallery. Also his ‘View of Geelong’ at Geelong Art Gallery is worth taking a trip for.

Eugene Von Guerard: Nature Revealed

National Gallery of Victoria,  Federation Square, Melbourne

Dates: 16th April – 7th August 2011

In fact, I thought my calling was to be a painter.
Patti Smith

Art of the landscape: Best Australian painters 1

Australia has a rich history of painting the landscape. In the western tradition going back to the First Fleet in 1788 and in aboriginal art way beyond that. Here’s just a sample of my favourite ones. Those who influenced me, those who taught me and those whom I aspire to be like.

Jeff Makin 1943-

australian landscape painting of rocky hill
Jeff Makin was a lecturer when I was at art school and his passion and commitment to painting I’ve always admired. I love many of his paintings too. The light in Australia is bright thus his bright paintings. Some people call this garish, I don’t. Many plein air painters paint the mornings and afternoon light so they can get a softness in tone and colour but in my opinion it doesn’t give a really accurate picture of the light in Australia. It just looks nice.

Arthur Boyd 1920-1999

Australian landscape painting of hill reflected in still water

The Boyd family are a famous creative family in Australia for 6 generations. Arthur Boyd used mythological figures in the Australian landscape and, as I was very interested in mythology early on, it gave me a way of imagining those stories in my own paintings. Of course he was really influenced by the Renaissance painters and just transformed their ideas into the Australian landscape instead of Italian. He had that role for me.

Arthur Streeton 1867-1943

Australian landscape painting of mine explosion during hot summer day

A few people regard him as Australia’s greatest painter. He is technically fantastic.

Clarice Beckett 1887-1935

Misty Australian landscape painting of Yarra river at sunset

Lived a quiet suburban life dedicated to painting. Gorgeous little tonal paintings.

Aboriginal rock painting of Arnhem Land called X ray painting

Aboriginal Wall painting in X-Ray Style, N.Australia

I loved aborginal X-ray art of Northern Arnhem land when I first went to art school. It is a 4000 year old technique in which the inner parts of animals and humans are painted within the silhouette of the figure which is often lined with white pigment. Not really a landscape however the style influenced my early landscape paintings and gave me a way to visualise pain.

Sidney Nolan 1917-1992 ‘Ned Kelly’

Australian painting of Ned Kelly on horse in desert.
Sidney Nolan painted two series on the 19th century bushranger Ned Kelly (the late Heath Ledger played the title role in a movie about him). The first series done in the 1940’s is best. Australia’s history painter.

Brett Whiteley 1939-1992

Australian landscape painting of hill with bird and nest


Brett Whiteley used collage a lot in small details in his landscapes. You get a surprise when you get close to them. He was quite a playful painter always searching for the emotional equivalent of the landscape’s effect on him. Sometimes graceful and other times violent with gorgeous blues in many of his paintings. His blues really influenced me.

You might find these books on Australian art interesting.

Australian Pastoral: The Making of a White Landscape by Jeanette Hoorn 2001 A fascinating and enjoyable book.

Art of Australia by Robert Hughes 1970 It’s old but anything written by Robert Hughes is always a stimulating read. He’s opinionated and some of his opinions about Melbourne art in the book many people disagree with.

Art of Australia 1788-2000 by Bernard Smith 1962 Updated 2001 Classic book about Australian art but I found it slightly ponderous to read.

Related posts:

Art of the landscape: Best Australian painters 2

Colour is my day-long obsession,  joy and torment.

Claude Monet

An odd match: The Australian bush landscape and Dame Joan Sutherland.


I’ve never listened to opera much when I paint. It’s just too distracting. All those high notes and drama going on. Or classical music in general really. (Though I broke that rule last week as NPR  has a new recording of  Tchiakovsky’s  ‘The Nutcracker’  conducted by Simon Rattle online. It’s absolutely superb.)

Recently my favourite opera singer Dame Joan Sutherland died. In case you’ve never heard of her she was an Australian opera singer who came from humble beginnings in Sydney and through incredible hard work and determination became one of the very greatest opera singers in the world. Great artists come along so very rarely. If you’re interested have a listen to her Lucia de Lammamoor. Or Norma. She had the most incredible high notes and singing range. And tone.

I won’t show you one of her musical performances but a 1995 Australian film she was in called ‘On our Selection’. Well no it’s not the greatest performance ever but she’s an icon so we can forgive her.  The movie’s about the  Australian comic characters ‘Dad and Dave’ and their families struggling to make ends meet at the end of the 19th century. Joan plays Ma Rudd. It’s just the introduction but you can see her if you look closely.

It’s a pretty rough video so sorry about that but it gives the feel of the Australian bush landscape. With it’s washed out olive greens and greys and general scrappiness. It’s been a constant battle of mine to represent the Australian landscape in paint. It’s harder than you think. ‘On our Selection’ was filmed in Braidwood, a country town in New South Wales.