The capricious titles that often accompany George Haynes paintings tend to deflect from the effort and technical know-how that had gone into their making. Up Down and Over the River on a Sunday Afternoon is such a title – a light-hearted one for an intricate depiction of East Fremantle from North Fremantle, with the Swan in between and the span that is Stirling Bridge joining them.
It is a picturesque day with the river sparkling and a gentle breeze driving a sailboat before it. A couple hand in hand stroll on a pathway and a young man rests in the shade of the bridge surveying all that is before him. A powerboat casting a wake speeds up river and the buildings that are East Fremantle appear pristine and glow in the midday sun. It is an idyllic summer’s afternoon on the banks of the Swan River that isn’t a river at all – it’s an estuary.
The moored boats, some with masts, face into the breeze all spaced and positioned to aid the vertical and compliment the horizontal of the panorama. The water is choppy to make reflection minimal and not interfere with the order of the design, which ensures our eye does not wander outside the perimeters Haynes has set us.
As we gaze across the panel from left to right (or east to west if you are a local) we notice a change in the tone and length of the shadows. To the west of the bridge the sky takes on an afterglow as the sun sinks into the ocean. The sandy edge of the river has changed from warm to cool and the buildings are no longer bathed in bright light, there is haziness as we peer into twilight. Suddenly it’s realised – there’s a bit more to this work, this isn’t just a scenic expanse of the river using a wide lens profile, it’s a length of day picture.
Haynes has painted the subtle changes of light we experience during the course of an afternoon. He has progressed time from midday to sunset across the width of the panel and the change of light has been introduced so gently and skilfully that it has hardly been detected, just as a day can slip quietly away when we are relaxing or enjoying ourselves with some other temperate activity.
Haynes likes his audience to look at his pictures and see them as well – he believes the longer you look the more you see and he is often reluctant to give a literal explanation of his intent. With all good works there is pleasure in discovery.
Through this picture Haynes is able to combine all the elements of picture making at which he excels, and then he teases us with the title to disguise his purpose. The subject of his picture is not East Fremantle or the Stirling Bridge or the Swan River and its attendant activity; it is the change of light during day. The scenery, while entertaining and topographically relevant, is really a bonus – it’s a prop to aid with the effect Haynes was seeking.
Others may have titled the work, “The Disappearing Day” or “Metamorphous from Noon to Twilight” but then they would be far too literal and the élan that is Haynes would be lost.