Menzies Art Brands



Few artists have captured the beauty and sheer luxuriance of the Australian rainforest as successfully as William Robinson. While we associate Australias best-known artists with their convincing representations of the scrubby bush or sun-bleached rugged coast, it is Robinson who stands above the rest when it comes to revealing the precipitous landscape of our subtropical rainforests. Queenslands Gold Coast hinterland and the parts of northern New South Wales that are world heritage areas we now associate with Robinson and with his visionary craft.

Rainforest with Botan Creek 1989 provides a uniquely revelatory and multi-sensory experience of a section of the Beechmont rainforest. The subject is a short distance from the more famous Lamington National Park, and close to the farm where Robinson had moved with his family in 1984. While Robinson continued to work as a senior lecturer in art at Brisbane College of Advanced Education until 1989, increasingly his time and energy were directed towards immersing himself in the environment and translating it into drawings, lithographs, and paintings.

Robinsons Farmyard series from the 1970s and 80s helped to relaunch his career, as he moved away from the Bonnard-inspired still-life and interior scenes that marked his early career. In the past, Robinson had used conventional pictorial perspectives, along with the modernist trope of the open window, like a passage into an unseen world beyond. However, the Birkdale paintings heralded a unique way of looking at and responding to the visible world. These were accomplished works, somewhat quirky, with humorous biographical insertions, but they also set the scene for the lyrical and highly inventive rainforest masterpieces that were to follow.

In 1987, William Robinson was awarded the Archibald Prize by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for his Equestrian Self-portrait, now in the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) collection. This is a transitional work that combined Robinsons love of farm life, and continued references to his cherished animals, with the lush rainforest of Queenslands scenic rim region, where he was now living. This focus paid immediate dividends. Once he had retired from teaching, Robinson devoted himself exclusively to painting. In 1990, Robinson won the Wynne Prize for landscape painting, another prestigious Art Gallery of New South Wales award, with his five-metre epic from the same year, entitled The Rainforest. The work was acquired for the Gold Coast art collection and is a centrepiece of the recently built Home of the Arts (HOTA).
The Rainforest depicts Botan Creek in the Beechmont rainforest as it flows into a waterfall and descends into the Coomera River. It was eloquently described in 2021 as a meditation on a landscape where time seems suspended.1 The inspiring setting provided Robinson with a point of difference and is a solid reference point for the painting currently on offer.

Both Rainforest with Botan Creek and The Rainforest reveal a host of stylistic innovations, particularly with regards to the construction of pictorial space. In a lucid essay written for QUTS important Hinterland exhibition in 2010, art writers Bettina MacAulay and Desmond MacAulay describe how the development of a topsy-turvy, uncentred, almost giddy approach to depicting the rainforest in Robinsons work paralleled his apprehensive response to walking and driving along narrow, steep roads and coming too close to vertiginous mountain and cliff edges.2 Although this physical response abated over time, the emotional sense of visual disturbance, complex, multiple viewpoints, and a feeling of psychological insecurity, continued. It manifested in the pictures as something akin to a leitmotif. The rainforest triggered complicated emotions and anxieties.

In Rainforest with Botan Creek, the landscape also verges on the climatic intensity of a Bach fugue an apt reference point given Robinsons love of classical music. A pattern is established and continued in circular motion around the edges of the picture. Whereas the centre of the painting is a light-filled abyss in which attenuated, writhing tree trunks stretch tenuously upward. There is no beginning or end. The painting carouses in its all-over composition as internally dense as it is outwardly uplifting and healing.
Robinsons signature style flourished on the back of many years of unrelenting experimentation and work. Rainforest with Botan Creek reveals an artist at the peak of his career, who is acknowledged and celebrated as one of Australias, and the worlds, brightest and best.

1. Warnes, D., Ayres, E., Bryce, Q. and Cooper-Lavery, T., Lyrical Landscapes: The Art of William Robinson [exhibition catalogue], Home of the Arts, Queensland, 2021
2. MacAulay, B. & MacAulay, D., Painting the Vertiginous Hinterland, in Hinterland: The Rainforest Works of William Robinson [exhibition catalogue Queensland University of Technology, 2010.

Rodney James
Rodney James is an independent art consultant who specialises in valuations, collection management, exhibitions, research and writing, and strategic planning for art galleries and museums.

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.