Menzies Art Brands



Chooks, William Robinsons exuberantly painted oil on canvas from 1980, is one of the works he produced while living on his farm at Birkdale near Brisbane. Robinson moved to Birkdale with his wife, Shirley, and their young and growing family in 1970 because they wanted more space and thought their children should experience the patterns and rhythms of farming life.

The Farmyard Paintings of this period grew out of Robinsons townsmans astonishment at what he saw and was compelled to do amidst the variety, the colour, and chaos of this semi-rural farming life.

During this time, Robinson was still teaching art at the Central Technical College in Brisbane, traveling back and forth to the farm each day and so, in the mornings and evenings and weekends dealing with the unending chores that are part of the daily round of a small farm on the edge of a city. Yet, he still found time to paint.

His classical training had provided a framework for his painting, but he felt there had been little training in the use and possibilities of colour. Over the time, this fascination with colour became the dominant factor in his work. It is worth noting that in the monochrome tones of his surroundings in semi-rural Queensland, he was able to discover colour where others may have found none.

In the painting Chooks, Robinsons rich and high-toned palette is arresting. It is a complex painting in intention and form. The overt subject matter is the energy and disarray of the farmyard, but its core is the matchless placing of colour. Robinson has always immersed himself in his surroundings and then painted them. In doing so, he uncovers a sense of the marvellous in the ordinary. In Chooks, with its vivid textured surface, his rendition of the mundane is an exercise in alchemy.

Out of the banal, the ceaseless pecking of the chicken run, has come a tapestry of vibrant colour. Chartreuse grass is scumbled with multitudinous tiny strokes of grey to provide the ground for the strutting and scrapping of dishevelled black roosters asserting dominance of the chicken run and the picture plane with outstretched wings and talons.

It appears a scene of chaos but depicting chaos, paradoxically, requires structure and the structure of this picture is minutely observed. The composition of the work is anchored by the weight and sweep of black through the middle third of the painting. Black tail feathers and wings touch and float the eye to the centre of the picture. The commanding black of the roosters in the centre is highlighted by the contrasting dirty yellow-gold of their neck feathers and accentuated with splashes of the red of combs and wattles creating a riot of colour. At the edges, the white birds give relief to the colourful intensity of the centre.

The bedraggled and moulting white wings of the comic bird at centre top are intended to evoke amusement but they function in another way as well. The wings of the almost floating bird hint at the possibility of escape from the chaos of the pecking-ground into the freedom of flight. Like Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Robinson uses release from gravity images of figures taking flight to express the possibility of joy in freedom.

For Robinson as for William Blake (1757-1827) energy is eternal delight. The visual rendering of this energy shows Robinson in peak command of his medium and his subject. In many Farmyard paintings, Robinson included images of himself. Terence Maloon noted those appearances to frame his response to Robinsons first exhibition of Farmyard paintings at Ray Hughes Gallery in 1985. This response is pertinent in its iteration of Robinsons skill.

Farmer Robinson is always in the thick of it all, but his counterpart, Painter Robinson is the invisible juggler, the choreographer who stands outside the picture co-ordinating and bringing equilibrium to the waywardly circulating menagerie of forms, colours and graphic rhythms.1

In Chooks, with its lush surface and rich colour, Robinson the painter, juggler, and choreographer of form has created a painting that stands at the centre of his work.


  1. Maloon, T., Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1985, p.48

Lynn Fern
Lynn Fern is a writer specialising in art and cultural concerns and is the author of William Robinson, Craftsman House, 1995.

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.