Auction Highlight Winter 2011 Sam Fullbrook (1922-2003)

Horse breaker, drover, timber cutter and rabbit shooter, typical of those with a parallel background, Sam Fullbrook’s stories were boundless and entertaining. He seemed to have a similar facade to those knockabout characters that often appear in the Cape York works by Russell Drysdale such as “Midnight Osborne” or “Rocky McCormack” but there was a double twist to Fullbrook’s character that didn’t fit into the popular ideal, Fullbrook like Drysdale was a marvellous painter, but he also had an argumentative manner.

 

Legend has it that some of his dealers so dreaded his appearance in their gallery so much that they would exit the back door as he came in through the front, leaving their assistants to deal with the belligerent artist that would materialize if his paintings weren’t on display. Throughout his career Fullbrook maintained a tight control on his output and struck a fine balance between the creative and the commercial needs of the art world.

 

Sam Fullbrook served in the Middle East and New Guinea during WWII and studied art through the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Scheme. William Dargie was his teacher and considered Fullbrook to be the star of his students “one of the best natural talents I have ever met and the only one who really understood” was Dargie’s judgement, and whose students at the time included John Brack, Fred Williams, Clifton Pugh and James Wigley.

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Lot 68 Samuel Fullbrook – Hibiscus

Fullbrook’s career as a painter commenced in 1948 and to supplement his income he often returned to the outback to work as a miner or cane cutter. In the early 50’s he wandered across the continent and spent time in the North of Western Australia painting the landscape and people. He arrived in Perth in 1954 and had a substantial effect on the local art community. Laurie Thomas the director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia made the first public institution purchase of a Fullbrook with the acquisition of “The Butcher.” A number of other works were bought locally due to the efforts of Robert Juniper and such was his popularity in the west, Fullbrook held a near sell out exhibition at the Skinner Gallery in 1962.

 

He remained in Western Australia until 1960 working at various occupations including prospecting, fence building, mining court advocate and waterfront worker. He learnt of John Olsen’s success and returned to Sydney and also prospered. He won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting twice and in 1974 won the Archibald Prize for his portrait of the Jockey “Whopper” Stevens – he thought he owed Stevens a portrait as he (Stevens) had broken a leg when riding one of Fullbrook’s race horses.

 

In 1975 the Historic Memorials Committee then chaired by Malcolm Fraser and including Bill Hayden rejected Fullbrook’s portrait of Sir John Kerr. They had decided that the picture was not in keeping with the committee requirements and was in their opinion a caricature rather than a portrait. “They wouldn’t have a bloody clue” was Fullbrook’s response and accordingly claimed that Sir John Kerr had thought the picture showed him as a kindly old man.

 

Unlike his personality Fullbrook’s touch was delicate. His marks are confident and he was a supreme colourist without consideration to paint quality or perspective. He practiced his approach to each work before the medium was applied and never literal he always asked the viewers to provide some detail of their own.  He didn’t believe in happy accidents and his tone variation can be so subtle as to be almost invisible to the untutored eye.

Upon visiting his studio one evening a friend of Fullbrook’s commented,  “after four hours, you’re still sitting in front of that picture and nothing has changed.” Fullbrook didn’t respond and just continued to gaze at the picture. After a minute or two he put his brush down looked up at his friend and in his own colourful way responded – “Can’t you see that I’ve managed to change the tone of the foreground?”

Auction Highlight Winter 2011 Guy Grey-Smith (1916-1981)

Though better known for his pictures, Guy Grey-Smith’s painting technique evolved from his experience as a potter. The need to be physical in the creation of his paintings and the tactile quality of his finished surface owe their origins to the craft. His works in clay and paint could be described as having a refined-coarse quality, which is a description that is appropriated for the Australian landscape.

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Lot 82 Guy Grey-Smith – Bay

“Bay” is not a serene picture – it was never intended to be. It is a commanding picture using all the cleverness of the painter’s craft though tailored to his individual needs. Broad bands of colour, varying tones, craggy paint, energy in execution and simplified composition all mingle to make this work whole.

The title is simply “Bay” but to the knowledgeable observer it is identifiable as an Australian bay in the South of Western Australia where the coast is rugged but the temperature cool. It’s early morning, as the sun has not yet chased the dark from the West nor made the peninsula features distinct – the terrain blends into the sky.

Grey-Smith always acknowledged his debt to European masters and in the Art Gallery of WA Guy Grey-Smith retrospective catalogue of 1978 he was to say

Cezanne was my first master”

“I found de Stael’s painting gave me an avenue of freer individual development – the simplification of form and the simpler movement of action.”

“Perhaps I appreciate even more how Rouault ticks. I feel that his controlled emotional strokes give not only life, vitality, movement but a controlled emotion – it’s vigorous and immediate.”

While his own admission other may have sewn the seed, Grey-Smith moulded their concepts to suit his needs and accommodate the tough Australian landscape. There’s a timeless quality to Grey-Smith’s work that have roots in the past and branches into the future.

He is one of the few that has successfully borrowed from Europe (Cezanne, Rouault, de Stael) and made the end result quintessentially Australian and unmistakably his own.

Auction Highlights Winter 2011 Elwyn Lynn (1917-1997)

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Lot 27 Elwyn Augustus Lynn – Hi

‘If he’s not recorded in the book, he probably wrote it’ is a common reference to Elwyn Lynn. Artist, writer, teacher, administrator and critic, his contribution to Australian art was wide and varied with the eternal legacies being his writing and his artworks.

Considered to be Australia’s foremost textural painter Lynn’s pictures are as sharp today as they were when first painted, and it isn’t uncommon to see a confused stare when it is explained to an interested observer that a picture by Lynn was painted in Australia 50 or more years ago. He was doing then, what others are discovering today.

Visual, tactile and with intellectual appeal Lynn often posed questions through his titles and encouraged his audience to seek further answers “Hi” was painted in 1968 when he was teaching in Sydney at the Cleveland St Boy’s High School. It was also a time he was reacquainting himself with the international art movements that he feared were passing Australia by.

By his earlier standards the texture of “Hi” is minimal as is its literal component, though his abstracted palette remains consistent. The work is restrained though containing an element of humour. Is “Hi” the greeting from a chipped tooth student at the beginning of a new school year or is it Lynn’s own greeting to his modified technique that would reduce the grainy surface and increase collage? Prehaps it is neither, but regardless of the riddle of the title “Hi” is an example of early Australian abstraction and important to Lynn’s oeuvre.

Auction Highlight Winter 2011 Robert Juniper(1929-2012)

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Lot 63 Robert Juniper – John Forrest Rocks

In the early phase of his career, Robert Juniper (and other Western Australian painters) developed in isolation, far away from Melbourne and Sydney, the apparent centres of the Australian art scene. Juniper became thankful for that remoteness as it allowed him to develop at his own pace and free from the effects of the fashion and art movements that were sweeping through those centres.

He did have doubts about being isolated, and they surfaced from time to time but soon passed and he was able to grow as a painter. Juniper also had a teaching career that provided for the family and afforded him the freedom to paint as he wished – “I can think of nothing worse than going into the studio and thinking I’ve got to feed the family.”

In an interview with Laurie Thomas in 1969 Robert Juniper said, “I think it is a painter’s duty if not his goal to be himself – to paint from his own experience, what’s inside him and not from the glossy magazines.” Thomas considered that Juniper had a poetic feeling for the Australian landscape. “I feel that I’m developing what I feel is an indigenous thing – indigenous to Western Australia – because I don’t feel any strong influence from anywhere else,” was another quote from the Thomas interview. Juniper is correct in his assessment, as his work is free from outside influence though others have been influenced by his work.

With this work “John Forrest Rocks”, Juniper has painted a portrait of the landscape not far from his home range of Darlington. He has isolated a group of engaging rocks (that appear in many of his drawings) surrounded by minimal vegetation that may or may not exist. The trees and shrubs form an important part of the composition and are drawn or incised in a manner that is unmistakably his – this is not a literal scene but the essence of a memory – his sense of order and design is impeccable. Silvery tones, slippery surfaces and withdrawn colour indicate winter as the season.

On closer inspection of the picture, the over painting, incised lines and build up of texture come into view. He has worked and scraper and layered different medium in the hunt of the effect he seeks. Juniper uses whatever tools are available in this pursuit – nothing is sacred. In a television film of the 90’s he explained that his children often complained when they found their toothbrushes, combs and hairbrushes in their fathers studio – appropriated in the cause of art – though always quickly replaced.

For over 50 years, Robert Juniper has lived and worked in Darlington, a hills location 20 kilometers east of Perth, surrounded by the trees and landscape he captures on canvas so distinctively.

 

Auction Highlight Winter 2011 Stacha Halpern (1919-1969)

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Lot 20 Stanislaw (Stacha) Halpern – Boeuf

Stacha Halpern was bourn in Poland in 1919 and immigrated to Australia in 1939 following the Nazi occupation of Poland. He lived in Melbourne and in 1951 left to travel through Europe where he began experimenting with expressionistic portraiture.

Stacha Halpern’s paintings are not easy to forget, he would bound them with energy and verve that didn’t stop until they were completed. They leave an indelible impression in one’s mind, and love them or hate them, one never forgets them.

Halpern returned to Australia in 1966, but the reception his work received was disappointing. The scrap between the abstractionists and antipodeans was still in play and despite a sucessful career in France, the Australian public wasn’t ready for a naturalised expatriate whose images seemed to have a foot in both camps – figurative with the antipodeans and expressionist with the others.

Stan Rapotec another émigré would say of his own career, after he was mistaken for an overnight sensation”… I firmly and strongly believe now, that to build  up an artist in any field you need twenty years of struggle – struggling, battling, performing, experimenting, exercising and, yes, exposing oneself in one’s work to the full brunt of criticism.” Halpern had already served an apprenticeship in Paris – he had achieved prominence and success there in just fifteen years but that didn’t count in Australia, he still had his time to serve and one can be confident in saying that he would have given the time, as above all else including his Polish birthplace and his European successes he considered himself to be Australian.

Sorry to say he didn’t have another twenty years to give and died through heart disease in 1969 – three years after his return.

Halpern’s position and effect in the International art scene of the 60’s is finally being respected in Australia. A PArisian art critic referred to him as an example of what young French artists should aspire to, he hung in galleries along side Rothko, Guston and Frankenthaler. His works were exhibited at group and solo shows in Paris, Rome, New York, Amsterdam, Basle and Milan. And unlike many of those that preceded him to Europe he was to heave a real effect in the art scene, particularly in Paris.

It would take almost three decades before Australia could step up to the mark, even though Halpern had champions along the way, desperately wanting to help others to see.