Menzies Art Brands



Western Australians took Robert Juniper to their hearts, making him the most recognisable and successful artist in the states history. He personified the image they had of themselves and their isolated home he was tall, robust and energetic, physically powerful, independent and with a commanding presence. His work was bold and engaging, yet with a subtle understanding of the landscapes that define so much of Western Australia.

Robert Juniper was born in Perth just before the Great Depression, and after a childhood in the bush, moved to the UK, spending the wartime years in rural Kent. He attended the Beckenham School of Art, and as a young man worked in a series of manual and low level advertising jobs before returning to the West in 1949. The postwar years were far from easy and Juniper worked on a family farm at Margaret River until conditions improved sufficiently for him to return to Perth and the pursuit of his intended career as an artist. His early work was influenced by the English modernists he had seen as a student in Britain, but gradually he began to engage with the landscapes of his home state.  A key influence was the eccentric and visionary painter Sam Fullbrook (1922-2004), whose spontaneous approach to design was a key to Junipers understanding of the vast flat lands of Western Australia. Just as Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) had been energised by the view of the Pilbara from a low flying aircraft, Juniper found that flying over the vastness of the outback was a way of understanding the sheer scale of the land to be depicted. His canvases became ever larger and he worked them flat on a table, allowing the paint to flow and ebb like the eddies of an outback stream. He developed a technique where a thicker medium was applied and, while still soft, he would draw into the surface with a steel pen and various tools. Once hardened he rubbed colour back onto the surface, filling the engraved lines like a printmaker working an etched or engraved plate. The crusty surface, intricate designs and great sweeps of subtle colour were perfect metaphors for the land itself. The large scale of his works meant he would need to work around the canvas, reaching into the centre just as the explorers, miners and cattlemen would circle the deserts, reaching in and exploring the harsh heart of the country. There is a spare elegance in the random placement of motifs scattered across his canvases, echoing the neglected detritus of mans often pathetic attempts to exploit and tame the vastness of the west.

Junipers untitled landscape contains all the ambiguity and mystery that he saw in the outback. Is it a view from below, two figures scaling a hill, or the view from above, looking down to a body of water?  A family of owls stare out of the picture, as confused as the viewer as to just what is going on. The dry burnt colour of the land, littered with strange symbols and objects, contrasts to the blue abyss above, at once both sky and water. Robert Juniper chose to remain in Western Australia right up until his death in 2012. He was the leading artist in his home state for more than fifty years and it is the rest of Australias loss that he was not better known outside the West, despite his twice winning the Wynne Prize for landscape with works of colour and brilliance that proved him the equal of any landscape painter of his generation. 

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