This talk took place in conjunction with my solo show at Defiance Gallery in July 2012.

Evenings around the campfire on the Larapinta trip in 2011; the enthusiasm for making art didn’t stop. Led by Euan Macleod, a bunch of artists would set up away from the fire and paint by torchlight. I didn’t fancy spending hours painting in sub zero temperatures so instead drew quick sketches of the night painters. Carmel Cosgrove took the atmospheric video footage.

sketching the night painters

‘Folded and faulted sediment III’ 110 x 140cm mixed media on paper, finalist Dobell Prize 2012

This year the judge Aida Tomescu selected 47 finalists from 639 entrants. The Prize is on display at the Art Gallery of NSW until 10th February 2013.

About six years ago I made the decision to start entering art prizes on a semi regular basis. Since then I’ve had a couple of good runs of being hung in things, followed a year or more or rejections. I’m kind of used to this randomness by now and don’t try and read too much into either success or failure. As I say to my students, enjoy it when it happens, don’t worry when it doesn’t. Or to quote the very wise Kevin Connor  ‘To be hung amongst a limited number is never good luck, but not to be hung is often bad luck. Judging art prizes is not an exact science.’
Anyway, at the moment I’m on a good run; Highly Commended in the Norvill Prize for Landscape Painting, followed by the Paddington Art Prize (I’ll give the Dobell Prize its own entry).

‘Tim Allen, Rhett Brewer, Michael Herron and Leo Robba are mates. They all live in the Blue Mountains and are all professional artists.
So it makes perfect sense that they should put on a combined exhibition of their work at the National Trust’s glorious Everglades property as part of the Leura Gardens Festival.
The exhibition is titled Painting the Everglades, and will be displayed in the renovated gallery in the grounds of the gardens.
“This is a first for all of us,” says Allen, who lives in Woodford. “I have been teaching workshops (at Everglades) for many years so it all just came about through that.” Robba and Herron make gardens a regular focus of their painting practices, so they must have felt right at home in the elegant, carefully created garden at Everglades.
By contrast, Allen is an avid bushwalker, more used to painting the mountains as wilderness, while Brewer usually paints urban scenes. Although their exhibition didn’t have to be about the Everglades, the artists wanted to show their different interpretations of the garden with its fabulous views of rocky escarpments.
Having taught many painting workshops in the Everglades garden, Allen looked on the task as practising what he had preached.
“It’s a fantastic place to spend time in,” Allen says of Everglades. “It makes you at peace with the world. We are all used to working on the spot and that’s been a big part of our practices. We’ve all spent time in the gardens painting and drawing.”
Allen was inspired by the “visual contrast and tension between the evergreen – the firs, cypresses, cedars and pines – and the deciduous – the beeches, oaks, birches and maples”.’

The view from above Grindells’ Hut. Working with all materials at hand; as to whether it’s painting or drawing, it doesn’t really matter. This was the second work of the day, not a bad work but I was looking for something bolder, harsher and structurally stronger (words I associate with this particular landscape). The next day I worked with the same general view from a different vantage point…

and this work captured what I was thinking…

‘Gammon Ranges I’ Mixed media on paper, 78 x 109cm

(postscript – Some months later I successfully reworked the initial drawing back in the studio. Days of work with fine sandpaper to get parts of the page back to a pristine state in order to rework a few crucial marks. Many ways to skin a cat I guess.)

During Easter 2012 myself and fellow artists Charmaine Pike, Michelle Hungerford and Michael Herron spent some time working plein air at a farm in the Monaro Plains, courtesy of Defiance Gallery. As the photo indicates, it had quite the feeling of a 19th century ‘pastoral’. For myself the last drawing of the trip was the one where everything came together and it was susequently selected for the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize.

‘Granite Field, Monaro Plains’ 109 x 78cm, Acrylic gouache ink and charcoal on paper

This is the blurb I provided to go with the painting;

‘This work was created over Easter 2012, at a property outside Cooma on the Monaro Plains. The collections of granite boulders and dieback trees that dot the property have the starkness of the European romantic tradition. This was emphasised on the day of this painting when the initially sunny day quickly transformed as a strong southerly front brought an unseasonal snowstorm. The energy and tension imbued into an artwork by the unpredictability of working en plein air is what I love about the process. The day finished with a beer, contemplating the painting on the veranda as snow fell and the other artists started a snowfight.’   


Selected by John McDonald, who chose 48 finalists from the 428 entries.

‘Ridgelines’ 100 x 125cm, mixed media on paper, 2012

‘This drawing was produced at the end of a series of work based on a trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory. However, it has become removed from a specific location (it could just as easily be an alpine landscape). I wanted to describe an environment that was vast, silent and still as well as being imbued with energy and anxiety. I think these competing emotions form a paradox that is at the heart of my experience of spending time in wilderness environments.’

(from the exhibition catalogue)

A selection of work in the studio following the trip to the West MacDonnell Ranges in June 2011.

One of the last paintings in that series was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald Australia Day wrap in January 2012. Each year on Australia Day the SMH invite 12 artists to have their work featured in a four page wraparound cover of the paper. The theme for 2012 was ‘The great Australian landscape’. The works reproduced in the paper then formed an exhibition at Tim Olsen Gallery.

 ‘Above gorge country’, 136 x 183cm, oil on canvas, 2012