William Robinson ‘By the Book’ Exhibition 

August 12, 2020


Recently SheSociety enjoyed a lovely day out visiting Old Government House at QUT. Upstairs in this grand old dame you will find the William Robinson Gallery. William Robinson is one of Queensland’s most famous contemporary painters, although he has always joked that he is only a humble goat farmer. 

Robinson is the only living Australian artist to have a gallery dedicated solely to his work. His work hangs in some of the most prestigious art museums in the world; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Vatican Museums,Vatican City and the British Museum, London, as well as being represented in all major Australian public art museums. This latest exhibition is called By the Book, and draws upon Nick Earl’s’ non fiction novella, A New Perspective, to present an immersive exhibition experience.

Who is William Robinson? 

William Robinson was born in Brisbane in 1936 and began painting in the 1960’s, but did not become a full time artist until he was 53. He had a distinguished career teaching art at several Universities, including the Teacher’s College where he was my art lecturer for a semester. I remember doing printmaking and textile work. 

It was funny for me to see a photo of the old Kedron Park college in the exhibition and also to learn that Robinson had studied lithographs and print making in Paris. I do remember him being passionate about these techniques. I also remember a rather witty man with a droll humour who enjoyed the conversations he had with students. I think he would be pleased to know that I always incorporated printmaking into my art classes when I was teaching and the young students always loved it. 

Prizes and Awards

Robinson works across subjects, but is best known for his landscapes and portraits. He is the recipient of not one, but two Archibald Prizes, the most prestigious art prizes in the land. He won these in 1987 and again in 1995. He also received the Wynne prize for landscape painting twice- in 1990 and 1996. In 2007 he was appointed with the Order of Australia for outstanding achievement and service to the arts. 

Family Life and Art

He is the father of six children and he and his wife Shirley did have a farm in Birkdale from 1970 to 1984 with goats, chickens, cows and more. Many of his paintings are whimsical takes on life on the farm. They certainly made us smile. He also lived on a property in Beechmont and many of his vast landscapes show scenes from here and Springbrook. There are seascapes from Kingscliff and still life works painted now that Robinson lives in suburban Brisbane. It is interesting to see how setting and circumstance shaped the trajectory of Robinson’s art. 

Self portraits are a feature, as are beautiful and often vast landscapes. Highlights for me were, Self Portrait with Stunned Mullet, Drinkers and reflections, a chicken painting in oil on linen and Self portrait with goose feathers. I also loved the colourful still life paintings. It was amazing to see the range of techniques and materials that William Robinson has explored throughout his career. The pairing of soundscapes was a delight and it was hard to walk away from this experience. On a weekday we were the only ones exploring the gallery so it felt like a private tour. 

The By the Book exhibition is showing until 27 June 2021, so you have plenty of time to visit again and again. After our visit we had a stroll through the nearby City Botanic Gardens before enjoying a lovely lunch in the lush surrounds of The Gardens Club. This heritage listed Curators Cottage is open 7 days a week for breakfast and lunch or order one of their picnic baskets and dine alfresco in the gardens. There are so many great outings right here in Brisbane and if you are in need of your culture fix galleries and art museums are now open with COVID safe guidelines in place. 

You will love this immersive exhibition from one of Australia’s best contemporary artists paying homage to our beautiful country and way of life. On leaving you really can buy the book ‘ A New Perspective’ written by one of Brisbane’s favourite contemporary authors, Nick Earls. This latest exhibition is a modern and unconventional way to appreciate the art and life of William Robinson. One not to be missed by lovers of the arts in Queensland. 

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