There is elegance in Robert Junipers landscapes that few of his contemporaries could emulate. He has a style and technique that is quintessentially his, irrespective of the subject. His works are to be studied as the answers are never immediately apparent as this painting After the Bush Fire demonstrates.
Flight aided Robert Juniper in his depiction of the landscape. From thousands of metres above, in the security of an aircraft, he discovered order out of chaos, and splendour out of the rugged. He was the first Australian painter to consistently apply the aerial perspective to his landscapes and devoted himself to that discipline from 1980 onward. However in 1970 when this work was painted, Juniper was interested in the Japanese screen painters and he started to borrow from them in his landscape composition.
This is one of the first works where Juniper applied Japanese screen design to the Australian landscape. In contrast to the flowing rivers and green mountains of the Japanese scenery, Juniper in this work After the Bushfire depicted the dryness and unforgiving nature of Australia’s outback after being ravaged by fire.
The meandering river of the Japanese screen has been replaced with the meandering fire line of burnt undergrowth. The towering mountains of the Edo masters have been traded for the vague featureless horizon that fails to distinguish between earth and sky. The lush colours and gold leaf of the Japanese have been replaced with a muted palette that identifies with the arid, and the smooth surface of the screens has been enhanced by the impasto that Juniper is so fond of.
Even though the subjects are diametrically opposed, the sentiment is similar, quiet, still and contemplative. Juniper has managed to apply centuries of Japanese artistic tradition to the Australian landscape, he was the first Australian artist to manage this achievement.
After the Bush Fire is a pivotal work in Juniper’s oeuvre and is an early example of his interest in Japanese composition. It is a fore runner to his 1977 piece The River Dies in January, a large diptych that is included in the collection of the Art Gallery of NSW.