Sam Fullbrook discovered painting while serving in New Guinea during World War II, via supplies sent to the troops from the Army Adult Education. Upon his return to Australia, he studied at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Despite having viewed very few paintings in his youth, Sir William Dargie, Australia’s foremost portraitist and Fullbrook’s teacher, described Fullbrook as, ‘the star… one of the best natural talents I have ever met and the only one who really understood. [He had] a subtle sense of colour from the beginning [and a] minute discrimination in tone values.’1 Dargie’s admiration would be affirmed by Fullbrook’s receipt of the Wynne Prize in 1963 and 1964, and the Archibald Prize in 1974.
Fullbrook refined his natural artistic talents through rigorous study of the Old Masters, translating their light and colour theories into an Australian context. This tonal training can be seen throughout his ensuing oeuvre, where his works explore the full chromatic range in irresistible colour harmonies, as evidenced by Landscape, Oakey 1985. Here Fullbrook strikes a delicate balance between light and dark tones and warm and cool colours, achieving a state of perfect fluency.
Fullbrook’s works are a combination of spontaneity and contemplation. He would reflect at length on a work’s composition before painting it in a relatively short time. In this way, his paintings have been compared to a Japanese haiku; short but carefully considered sentences, resulting in a beautiful and lyrical whole.2 As one collector of Fullbrook’s work put it, ‘he says so much with so little.’3
After his formative years in Melbourne, Fullbrook chose to live mostly in isolation in outback areas of north-western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. Oakey is a small rural town in the Darling Downs farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, directly west of Brisbane. Oakey’s surrounding landscape is vast and open, with few landmarks to alleviate the flatness. Instead of focal points, Fullbrook uses calligraphic marks and blocks of colours to represent various crops – sorghum, peas, barley, wheat, and sunflowers. Art historian Felicity St John Moore compares Landscape, Oakey 1985 to the landscapes of Dutch Post-Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): ‘Rather like van Gogh in his paintings of wheatfields and sunflowers near Arles, Fullbrook exaggerates the local colour; his brushwork is lighter and more ephemeral, however, in keeping with the atmosphere of the Downs.’4
1. Moore, F., Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p.1
2. Ibid, p.2
3. Ibid, p.6
4. Ibid, p.63