King of the Hill Mine is archetypal of Robert Juniper in the 1980’s. By this time the artist had firmly settled into his mature style and behind him was over 30 years of an artistic career that heralded an intrinsic relationship with the West Australian outback.
Juniper’s early childhood was spent in the WA bush, firstly Merridin, before his family travelled alongside their father who was contracted as a construction worker on the C. Y. O’Connor pipeline. It was in the rugged bushlands east of Perth that Juniper first experienced the magnitude and isolation of the WA landscape.
Dissatisfied with the opportunities at the time the family relocated back to England where he was eventually enrolled in the Beckenham School of Art in Kent. It was here that the young artist was introduced to a background in art that was to shape the rest of his career.
Returning to WA as a young man in 1950 Juniper’s relationship with the landscape was slowly reignited, this time, his mind brimming with the aesthetics of contemporary European Modernists, in particular Paul Nash, Paul Klee and John Piper.
Perth’s art scene was burgeoning in the 50’s and it was during this time that Juniper was taken under the wing of John Lunghi and encouraged in his artistic endeavours. He worked alongside contemporaries the likes of Sam Fullbrook, Guy Grey-Smith, Brian McKay and Tom Gibbons. There was a significant artistic movement emerging with a distinctly Western Australian identity.
Juniper’s relationship with and ability to construct the West Australian landscape is unparalleled. With the aid of his European schooling Juniper brought about a new vision of the West. Abstract and expressionist in design, his evocation of the colours, character and magnitude of the landscape captured not only the environment itself but the essence of it, a spirit uniquely West Australian.
The earthy tones and celestial hues of the WA landscape are synonymous in junipers pallet, often employing the ionic reds of the desert or the dusky blues of the isolated sun setting over the impossibly vast and quieting landscape. The light and colour of the sun playing off of the landscape was an integral part of his work.
We see this in King of the Hill Mine as the radiating earth from a midday sun emanates around the sinking shadow of the mine. While a figure and his ridgeback dog levitate in the sheer scale of this isolated scene. A memory of Juniper’s re-imagined on canvas. “His paintings were to express in an involved and personal language, a pattern of ideas and memories; the haunting remoteness of Western Australian landscape, timelessness and ageless composites.”¹
A characteristic of Juniper’s work reflected in this piece is that it functions both from a distance and at the most intimate viewing.²
This monumental image of the ethereal WA landscape captures its awe while reflecting humbly on it. A painting with a distinctively West Australian attitude for its time – an inclination away from the pastoral heritage of WA towards a deep appreciation and respect for the ground itself and what lays beneath it³ – a motive that is still prevalent today.
¹Lynn, E. (1986). The Art of Robert Juniper. Seaforth: Craftsman House. p12.
² ³Fry, G. (2009). Robert Juniper. Sydney: The Beagle Press. p64, p69
Thomas, L. (1976) The Most Noble Art Of Them All. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.