"Paintings are not well mannered colour combinations that go with the lounge room curtains. My paintings are not likely to be understood by those who link art with urban fashion and theoretical notions related to mind games."
- William Robinson
William Robinson is one of Australia's - if not the world's - greatest landscape painters. He has captured these great depictions of nature at Springbrook, Mount Warning, Clouded Valley, the Tweed Valley and Numinbah, Canungra and Coomera Gorge.
Born in 1936 in Brisbane, and as a young man was very interested in music and art. Still an integrate part of his painting practice, he plays the piano every day and listens to music as he works.
In 1965 he was awarded a scholarship to the Queensland Central Technical College where he studied art for one year. After graduating, he spent from 1957-1989 as an art instructor, teaching at many different colleges around Queensland. He then retired to concentrate on his painting.
For the subject matter of his paintings, Robinson has always drawn from the elements of the environment around him, and throughout his painting career, he has made three major moves, which have changed the style of his paintings. From a small suburban farm in Birkdale, to the Gold Coast rainforest, to the beachside town of Kingscliff, the artist now divides his time between the three places, deliberately structuring his life to leave for months at a time, so that when he returns, he sees the sea or rainforest with fresh eyes. Depicting the life around him, his painting subject and style have changed greatly over the years. He started off painting the farm animals including dogs, chooks, cows and goats. He would capture the behaviour of the animals, and the chaos of the farmyard in Birkdale. He was inspired by the work of French artist Pierre Bonnard. Robinson studied Bonnard's approach to bright colours and the way he would give his works a 'poetic feeling'. These early paintings (from the 1970's) depict Robinson's life, the comforts and security of family life in his home in suburban Brisbane.
'The observer of the painter is included in the picture as a traveller, in the same way that we would walk around a landscape. I sometimes feel that I am in the painting itself looking out. My intention is to always draw the observer into the picture.'
Robinsons next major move was in 1984, from his Birkdale farm to a property at Beechmont, in the Gold Coast's eucalypt and subtropical rainforest. He then moved to painting mountains and rainforest scenes, on a much larger scale than before. These paintings of Robinson's are probably his best known. These paintings are amazing. These works are a different treatment of space, Robinson wanted to break away from the conventional horizon line, and find a new viewfinder. He tilts the land, plays with angles and uses reflection to create different levels in his artwork. You can get the feeling of looking up into the heavens and down at the same time, all in one painting. His works are viewed from many different angles, trees painted sideways, and then upside down, creating the feeling of looking up into the sky from a canopy of trees. One of the most interesting is his triptych 'Creation Landscape: Earth and Sea' 1996. With a huge scale of 180*730cm draws you into its curved world and surrounds you. There is no horizon, no vanishing point, and there are so many perspectives that the viewer is not even aware of. It is all one seamless vision. Victoria Hammond has described looking at this painting as '...you can only feel exhilirated, drunk, as you stand before it....because you are plunged into the painting's massive tilt and curve losing your sure vertical footing in the world.' There is a connection here with these paintings and with Robinson's interest in music. His paintings and the composition of the landscapes suggests an analogy with the harmonies in Bach's music.
'The subject in a Bach fugue can be complete, augmented, inverted, fragmented and joined through progressive sequences as it passes through various keys of major and minor scales....but they are still within themselves complete constructions.'
' article by Victoria Hammond.
William Robinson also makes lithographs. Lithography is a printing technique in which the image is first drawn onto a limestone block or sheet of metal with wax-based crayon or liquid tusche (an ink-like medium). The base is then immersed in water to create a chemical reaction with the wax image. This prepares the block for use, it is passed through a press to run off identical impressions. The printing ink used here can provide brilliant effects of colour.
These lithographs are important to Robinson, because they provide something that his paintings did not. They have the spontaneity and immediacy of recording 'the sense of air, smell, colour, foliage, structure of trees and land'.
Although he has held individual exhibitions from 1967, Robinson's work first came to national prominence when several of his works were selected for inclusion in 'Australian Perspecta' in 1983 and 'The Sixth Biennale of Sydney' in 1986. In 1987, several of his works were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. His work is also represented in the National Gallery of Australia, most Australian State collections, as well as many regional collections. Robinson has been the winner of several prestigious art awards, including the Archibald Prize with his self portraits in 1987 and 1995, and the Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1990 and 1996.
Since at least 1996, Robinson has been more open about talking publically about his religious beliefs in relation to his paintings.
In a paper by Robert Tilley, he has concentrated on the "...fact that more and more the discussion on Robinson's work has become overtly religious. Both on the part of those who write about him, and on Robinson's part as he discusses his work." He goes on to talk about Robinson's paintings as becoming 'increasingly inhuman, because purposefully devoid of the human'. An example of this would be how his earlier paintings would include himself and his wife as part of the landscape. From the late 1980's they began to disappear. In 1991, Robinson writes how a "kind of mystical Adam and Eve appear". We are not as the Romantics the summit of creation; we are merely one very little part of it. We come, we go, and the landscape keeps on. This is how Robinson's paintings can be viewed, and seen as becoming less and less human. Robinson says of this;
"There is a pulse, of which we are part - the same matter. One earth, from which there is no escape, we are not made from anything that has not always existed...I always remember that matter cannot be created or destroyed; only changed."
Is that all we need in order to understand Robinson's works? Or has an artist the responsibility - to both his art and audience - to understand what it is he or she is saying? Personally, I think he's been looking far too deep into Robinson's paintings to find something to contradict
the artists work which isn't really that important.