Important Australian + International Fine Art
10 April 2019


born 1936

hand painted ceramic vase

58.0 cm height

signed and dated lower centre: William Robinson 94
inscribed on base: ERROL BARNES

$35,000 – 65,000
Sold for $42,700 (inc. BP) in Auction 57 - 10 April 2019, Sydney

Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney
Deutsche Bank collection, Sydney
Deutscher~Menzies, Brisbane, 22 February 2006, lot 2
Private collection, Queensland
Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 24 August 2009, lot 81
Private collection, United Kingdom

Catalogue text

In around 1990, Ray Hughes conceived the idea for a large ceramics exhibition in partnership with the Queensland potter, Errol Barnes. Artists from the gallery stable were dispatched to work with Barnes in his idyllic bush studio tucked away in the Gold Coast hinterland, where they could work in quiet isolation removed from the distractions of everyday life to create works later presented in a massive exhibition at Hughes’ gallery in Surry Hills. The idea for the exhibition was a response to the economic mood of the time; with spending slowing due to the looming Keating recession Hughes felt that the exercise, albeit an expensive one for the artists, would be a fun way to break the gloom of the times and jolt gallery visitors into ’sticking their hand in their pocket’. Numerous ceramics exhibitions came and went with varying degrees of success, but the real legacy of the partnership was the body of ceramic works that William (Bill) Robinson created then and continued to produce in the years that followed.

Of all the artists who participated in the Ray Hughes ceramics projects, it was Robinson who achieved the most substantial results. For some of the artists involved, making ceramics was very much like a square peg in a round hole within their existing creative practice, but conceptually, the spherical nature of pots, plates and vases suited Robinson’s work perfectly. In every way, working on a physical sphere amplified what Robinson was attempting to do in his rolling, topsy turvy landscape images, and painting directly onto pots enabled him the freedom to literally paint in the round. The imagery from his earlier farmyard works, which provided the basis of his boldest innovations, was again deployed in the pottery as the artist continued to pursue experiments into distorting the picture plane. For Robinson the ceramics project was a ‘eureka moment’, which continued in the years that followed to inform the grand visions of the Queensland landscape for which he is best known.

The farmyard subjects remain amongst Robinson’s most whimsical and charming works and the humour of the imagery belies the important innovations developed within the series. Feeding the Chooks, 1994, displays the full repertoire of his farmyard characters, the chooks, ducks, geese and goats are all there. And so are Bill and Shirley, as the Adam and Eve of Birkdale hobby farmers, cavorting amongst the family pets, with Robinson’s mantle as one of Australia’s most important painters subverted amongst the farmyard shenanigans.