Menzies Art Brands

36. WILLIAM ROBINSON Goomoolahra with Butterfly 2003


Living in the country everything moves the seasons , the clouds, nothing is set. There are things behind you, all around you and you are in it.  William Robinson

Goomoolahra with Butterfly was painted and then shown at Philip Bacon Galleries in 2003. It quickly found a new home. The nineteen paintings included in William Robinsons exhibition sold prior to the opening, with the largest and most ambitious, Creation Landscape Fountains of the Earth 2002, being reserved for the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

A sell-out exhibition was not unusual for William Robinson he had achieved this distinction with some regularity since the redoubtable Ray Hughes had championed his work in the 1980s and 90s. What is remarkable, however, is the retention rate of privately owned works from the Brisbane show. Of the twenty-three offered for sale, only three have since made their way back onto the market. The presentation of Goomoolahra with Butterfly takes the number to four a validation of Robinsons creative vision and a hallmark of his technical prowess.

Landscape painting as an immersive and subjective experience melded with new and strikingly different understandings of the Australian bush is central to our understanding and appreciation of the work of William Robinson. Over a distinguished fifty-year career, including a multitude of survey exhibitions and major art prizes, Robinson has consistently explored how nature and the environment can act as a form of self-revelation and inquiry.

At the core of Robinsons paintings is a deep love and reverence for nature. Many of his works start with a daily walk in the surrounding rainforest. Robinson would take sketchbooks on the walks, later describing how small and seemingly inconsequential doodles, colour notes and descriptive words conveying the essence of the day, made the foundations for larger pastel drawings and paintings produced in the studio.

Robinson is deeply contemplative in outlook many of his paintings bring together ideas about how the world was created both metaphorically in religious texts and through theories of natural evolution such as in the separation of the supercontinent Gondwanaland. The pristine and temperate rainforests of south-east Queensland and the semi-rural out-blocks, farms and suburban gardens inspire, subsume and ultimately reward those who are prepared to take the time to look, feel and listen.

In 1994, William Robinson and his wife Shirley moved to Kingscliff on the New South Wales North Coast. This was a one-hour drive from the Springbrook Mountains, where, in the same year, hed acquired a studio. Judiciously, Robinson held onto the property following his return to Brisbane in 2001. This inspiring setting provided an important point of continuity for his practice and is the reference point for the current painting.

Goomoolahra Falls and picnic area form part of the Springbrook National Park. A loop of walking trails leads through dense bushland, verdant fern gullies and onto cascading waterfalls, mountain creeks and startling scenic vistas. Goomoolahra is reached by a short walk at the end of Springbrook Road.

Goomoolahra with Butterfly depicts a view very much like that at the top of the Falls. Clear mountain water from a nearby stream trickles over a moss-covered rock plateau and cascades across and down toward the canyon below. A forest of gnarled gums shed their bark each year. The trees in the painting resemble the white-trunked eucalyptuses common to that area. Tree branches extend across the break in the clearing, framing the view and creating long and convoluted shadows across the water. Glimpses of the surrounding canyons and mountains and the blue waters of the nearby ocean are shown to the north-east.

Robinson has an expansive and engaging worldview that considers nature in its entirety. Theres the sensation of the viewer being in and part of nature. The painter eschews conventional one-point or linear perspective where objects grow smaller and converge into the distance. Theres the organic sense of nature appearing above, beside and behind us, all at the one time. In Goomoolahra with Butterfly the shallow pools and trickles of water come toward the front of the picture but are re-directed back to the waterfall and the canyon below. Objects and forms such as tree trunks and ferns are repeated throughout the painting. It is as if the viewer has momentarily lost their bearings and gone past a section of bush again. As the walk progresses, the environment changes from sun-dried open space to more enclosed micro-climates showing tall tree ferns and increasing patches of damp, moss green.

The presence of the moon at the bottom right of Goomoolahra with Butterfly and the breaking up and transference of white light across its surface are a further indication that Robinson is painting the landscape as the sum of its parts rather than as one distinct recognisable view. Intrinsic to this treatment is the contrast between the underlying compositional structure and the intense, microscopic detail rendered through tiny brushstrokes and flecks of paint. The placement of a bright blue butterfly in the middle-right of the picture provides a transitory beacon, flickering like a church candle. This is landscape as a cathedral. An ancient primordial setting that evokes feelings of the creation of the earth, from its smallest minutiae through to entire panoramic vistas.

William Robinsons landmark retrospective exhibition held at the Queensland Art Gallery in 2001 introduced the full range of his art and concerns to an appreciative Australian public. Two years later, the paintings in the 2003 Philip Bacon Gallery show reveal a new direction for the artist.

Brisbane-based writer, Louise Martin-Chew captured this shift eloquently in an accompanying exhibition review: Even the smallest works, she wrote, are imbued with something new a fresh light, a level of detail lifted out by a palette richer in colour and brighter in sentiment. Robinson has changed his paint, and his canvases, and the quality of the painting is breathtaking. It is an open, less claustrophobic view, still embedded in his touchstone the landscape of Springbrook and the northern NSW coast and his unique dizzying viewpoints.1

Goomoolahra with Butterfly has been painted to give the effect of a passage of time that unfolds over the entire day.2 It is impossible to view from a fixed viewpoint or angle, something that Robinson uniquely developed, and conveys his admiration for the smallest aspect of nature through to a larger cosmic order. The painting is a major work from the early 2000 period that marks a new direction for the artist as well as being part of an ongoing journey. It contains strongly contrasted areas of light and dark and a kaleidoscope of colours that register Robinsons love of music and the crossovers between art and emotion.


1. Martin-Chew, L., The Australian 1983, n.p.
2. See the artists comments on the role of time in his art in an interview with the current Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, Christopher Saines.

Rodney James BA (Hons) MA

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