Fred Williams: The Pilbara

The Benalla Art Gallery is currently hosting one of Australia’s most significant series of landscape paintings created by Fred Williams. The exhibition of The Pilbara Series includes 13 masterful oil paintings and six gouaches from the iconic series, when Fred Williams went to Western Australia and produced a game-changing group of works which will be on display at the Benalla gallery until the end of January 2014.

The Pilbara Series is the last major series painted by Williams before his death in 1982. His depictions of Australia’s dramatic inland landscape, which he experienced during visits to the Pilbara in 1979, are striking in their use of colour and the way he used both aerial and close up views almost simultaneously. There is an obvious respect for the land and in these works we can see Williams’s originality and the Indigenous influences of a topographical flattening/up righting of the landscape in his composition of the picture plane. The National Gallery of Victoria has lent these works, which were originally commissioned by Rio Tinto.

Renowned Australian artist and Benalla resident, Ivan Durrant has liaised with the National Gallery of Victoria and has curated the exhibition providing an interesting and different context for this important series of works. He says “These vibrant and striking Pilbara paintings are, in my opinion, the most important body of work Fred Williams ever painted. They were Fred Williams’s last major body of work before his untimely death. He was an Australian artist at the very top of his game. Only van Gogh matches Fred for pure emotion and human interpretation of landscape. I’ve never been to the Pilbara, but know deep inside that if I were to go there I would feel the excitement and exhilaration that penetrates my soul when gazing at his work.”

In these works you will find a fantastic use of flat space and composition that interprets the landscape in a way that hadn’t been done before these iconic works were painted. Williams allows the cool blue cerulean skies to offset the rich iron earths and those enviable daubs and lollied brush marks stand out as a result of the painter’s craftsmanship. As much as Williams has been revered in the pantheon of Australian painting, every comment on his masterful talent is warranted and it’s in these paintings the qualities he was admired for are clearly on show. Durrant says, “These works are so powerful and moving that anyone seeing them will forever view the Australian landscape in a new light. Fred Williams is one of Australia’s leading artists, to be considered alongside such greats as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Russell Drysdale. It is a testament to the quality and appearance of our gallery that the NGV have worked with us to host such an important collection. This may be one of the most important exhibitions ever shown in a regional Australian gallery.”

A concurrent exhibition of work by local Pilbara indigenous artists will also provide an insight into the way local artists interpret the landscape. This is an important part of the Pilbara story and will provide context to the already, significant, Fred Williams showing.

“This indigenous art project will provide very real connections between the Pilbara region and its regional Victorian counterpart,” Mr Durrant said. “The Benalla Art Gallery is excited to host this large and valuable selection from Fred Williams, one of Australia’s most influential artists,” said Jilian Mulally, Manager Arts Communications and Events for Benalla Rural City Council. “Williams’ works have had a significant influence on the way Australians view their country, and it is a privilege to be able to offer a regional audience a chance to see these paintings in a new setting.” Jilian Mulally said that the Benalla Rural City Council and the gallery continued to work hard to provide opportunities for the community to view some of the best examples of diverse artwork from around Australia and beyond.

Benalla Art Gallery
Until January 28, 2014

Mount Nameless (morning), 1981, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 152.2cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Rio Tinto, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2001

Red cliff landscape, 1981, oil on canvas, 182.4 x 152cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Rio Tinto, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2001