The artworks of William Robinson AO reference the artist’s connection to the natural world and his response to a sense of place. Drawn to the intimate surrounds of his own ‘backyard’ on the western slopes of Beechmont in the Gold Coast hinterland, Robinson has created breathtaking, multi-perspective views of the lush rainforest canopy, looking upwards to the sky and down towards the rivers and streams. His works have transformed the way we view Australian landscape painting, revealing both the subtle pleasures and elegant beauty of the natural world with the delicate touch of the brush and atmospheric colours, favouring a somewhat lyrical abstraction imbued with a reflective tone.
HOTA Gallery presents ‘Lyrical Landscapes: The Art of William Robinson‘, a celebration of one of Australia’s most significant contemporary landscape painters, exploring the Brisbane born and raised artist’s creative output with Robinson’s monumental multi-panelled paintings from his Creation series (1988-2004), alongside intimate studies and prints, swayed by spirituality and a passion for music. The exhibition, guest-curated by former Governor-General, and proud Queenslander, Quentin Bryce AD CVO, invites audiences into reimagined subtropical worlds: Springbrook, Twin Falls, Purling Brook Falls, Lamington National Park and Wollumbin (Mount Warning), heightened by built lighting and classical music playing in the space during exhibition events, including performances by William Barton and Southern Cross Soloists.
Robinson’s Creation series is the centrepiece of the exhibition. Produced over 16 years, this is the first time it has been shown in its entirety: seven epic paintings anchored heavily in Robinson’s appreciation of the environment and connection to memory. The works surmise the Biblical seven days of creation. In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, and so too has Robinson in his compositions, depicting the celestial beauty of the natural landscape.
‘The elusive sense of spirituality embedded in Robinson’s painterly landscapes,’ says the Gallery, ‘is balanced by the practicalities of composition that he explores, challenges, and inverts. Through re-imagining perspective, Robinson places the viewer within, yet simultaneously above, the landscape, transposing the physical effect of being in a landscape into one of all-encompassing reverence.’
Absent of anthropogenic impact, Robinson’s landscapes are raw, pure and romantic interpretations of nature; multiple, shifting perspectives allow the viewer to withdraw into the natural worlds of these canvases: the Australian bush, its radiant sun and native foliage and, as Robinson illustrates, inverted trees, upturned rainbows, flowing streams and unconfined skies, day and night, in curved and twisted universes.
The rainforest, winner of the 1990 Wynne Prize for landscape painting, stretches almost five metres and hangs on a single wall within the exhibition. Part of HOTA’s own collection and the muse behind the new gallery’s unique design, The rainforest depicts Botan Creek which runs through the Beechmont rainforest to meet with the Coomera River. What appears to be an almost impenetrable landscape of dark shadows and entangled fern and gum trees, the viewer is free to roam through the lush green growth of the area, guided by the untamed river drifting across two panels filled with beauty, awe and discovery.
Robinson’s paintings have been referred to as symphonic compositions; repetitions of the musical engineering of Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss and Brahms, to name a few. Robinson often plays the piano in his studio, so it is no surprise that classical music is an integral part of his artmaking process. For example, in some of the works in the Creation series, Robinson’s imagery is akin to the orchestral arrangement of Bach, whose harmonies are rich and dense like Robinson’s landscapes. Robinson creates visual ‘chords’ that mimic the melodies, rhythms and dynamics of classical music, from pauses and intervals found in the breaks of mountain ranges and skies to the frequent changes of mood and timbre seen in upended tree trunks, seasonal changes and inverted viewpoints. Together, their works achieve a sublime union between music, imagery and emotion that borders on the spiritual.
Robinson has captured the ever-changing Queensland landscape with a flawless, reverential beauty that allows us to stop and reflect on our place in the world.
31 July to 3 October 2021