Friday, October 14, 2016

Brisbane Stories

My exhibition Brisbane Stories is finally up at the Petrie Terrace Gallery.  It is on now every day until Sunday 23rd October, and I must say am pleased with it how it is all looking.

Robyn Bauer, Looking out from under the Awning, Latrobe Terrace Paddington

I did the opening speech myself on Wednesday night and I will share here the basics of what I said. I have even included the jokes I told at the end of my speech. What I can't really relate here is how much I started laughing and struggled to get the punchline out!

Robyn Bauer, Brisbane Stories Opening Speech

"I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and original inhabitants of this patch of land the Jagera and Turrbul people, for whom I have the highest respect for their care for country.  I recognise that the land where RQAS now stands has always been a place of learning and of teaching.

There has always been an aspect of communication in what I have tried to do with my artwork. I have always written blogs about what I am trying to do as much to clarify my own thoughts as to open up to my audience.  In preparing for this exhibition I sat down to write my artist statement and for the first time ever I couldn’t write anything. My mind wasn’t exactly blank but I thought that whatever I said seemed to be superfluous, a cliché, or totally unnecessary. This surprised me but when I analysed it, I realized that maybe I had finally reached a point where the paintings were doing their own communicating and they didn’t need any help from me – a good thing…

Or alternatively I had simplified what I was doing into a “response to place” that has at last become instinctive.  I am interpreting where I live through the filter of myself, and in doing that and trusting my instincts I have finally found a response in the people who also live here.
But, I do need to go deeper than this. What am I spending 7 days a week doing and why?
My answer is quite personal. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile to do with my time, than to do the fraction that I can, to contribute to a visual interpretation of where we live. Every artist would love to go to Venice and paint the canals, to paint Paris by lamplight or sunsets over the Pacific. But I live here and I feel I owe it to here to look around here.

Robyn Bauer, Cricket Match Newmarket - Rain threatens Play

Working on location as an Urban Sketcher has really helped with that. It has helped me to broaden my source material. Instead of taking a photo of something picturesque as we all do, and working from that, sitting in the street with cars and signs and barriers in the way of a good “view” I made a conscious effort to embrace all that, the clutter of the street. What Robin Boyd disparaged as the Australian ugliness has become to me, something worth recording. And we don’t see in the way a camera “sees”. A camera has one lens out the front. We have two. Cameras distort. As people we see lots of things at the same time, and we hear, and smell simultaneously. We have to use visual tools to hint these other sense experiences.

As many of you are aware, this exhibition carries on from one I had last year which I called Paradise Found – Close to Home.  The biggest difference with this new work is the inclusion of so much more LIFE, people, not just the type of models we get at life drawing but real people with different body types, real street people.  The title “Brisbane Stories” indicates that there is a new narrative or story element to these works. And why not? It makes it real and it makes it fun.

 I was fortunate enough to be Artist in Residence at this year’s Royal Qld Show and I spent plenty of time preparing by sketching everywhere I went to build up my speed skills to capture the real body language of people just going about their business, not posing. 

Ekka on location sketches by Robyn Bauer

The people that I captured, are doing things or doing nothing. - You can insert your own narratives into what is going on. I have not spelled everything out, I have just hinted at possibilities. It anchors the work not just in a particular place but in a certain time. I am aiming for the universal through the specific.  - Because it is all we have.

Which brings me to explain what different parts of this exhibition are.

The unframed works on paper presented as a grid are the works that I did on location at the Ekka. I went there 9 – 5 for ten days and walked around with just the sketching materials I could carry in a small pull-along case. I think there is an honesty and freshness about these direct images which can be lost when things are retouched in the studio.

The large painting at the back is from my show last year and I have included it because I have the opportunity in this large space and because I have had the prints made that many people asked me for. Few people have a wall big enough so the prints are a practical compromise.

Robyn Bauer, Paradise Found - Close to Home

So there are many more figures in these new works, animals, birds and trees that populate the urban landscape. The natural world is never far away even in the most built up of areas.
Many people comment about the colour in my work, but I see myself first and foremost as a tonal painter, the light and dark have to work before the colour can. I do very closely observe light, which comes from the sky and you will see that I have tried to render every possible mixture of sky colour that I have observed. Mixing colour is an instinctive thing that comes with years of practice and experimentation and I don’t even think about it, but I am enjoying seeing the range of permutations.

Robyn Bauer, Hecate of the Suburbs, Menzies Street from Petrie Terrace

Brisbane is colourful, it is tropical, exotic and can be pretty in every season. Absolutely everything seems to grow here. It is this LIFE or a feeling of it even in the architecture that I have tried to capture.

When I taught in Manchester this year at the Urban Sketching Symposium my topic was The Body Language of Trees. I had approached them with this idea and they liked it.  - How trees in the urban landscape cope with what is around them.  I think I really extend this idea to the landscape itself, to the buildings, the gardens, the streets, even the overhead wires which are wonderful visual echoes of the topography underneath.
The body language of all these things!  Even inanimate ones.  - All these things are on my radar now and one other thing I would add is that I am great walker and when walking you can observe at a human pace and scale, and you also have time to think and process things as you go.

Robyn Bauer, City from Latrobe, Long and Alma Streets.

One final point which is a kind of technical one.  - How much I use negative space. The space between things, - like the silences or spaces in music, make it what it is, the length of notes, so too the spaces between my figures, buildings or trees become important pieces of paint. And one must remember that paintings are paint, so that the history of the layers, the drips, the underneath bits are vitally important to give the quality of life that I am after, that things change, move and develop. They are not static like a photograph is static.

Robyn Bauer Brisbane Stories Opening Speech

I was told I should start with a joke but instead I am going to finish with one.

“Why did the artist cross the road”?

“To see from the other side.”

And another joke or possibly a true story, -

 A wealthy man commissioned Picasso to paint a portrait of his wife. Startled by the non-representational image on the final canvas, the woman’s husband complained,    
“It isn’t how she really looks!”

Picasso asked the man how she really looked, and the man produced a photograph from his wallet.

“That’s not her, this is her”! 

Picasso looked at the photo and then gave it back to the man and said,

“Small, isn’t she?” "

Robyn Bauer - Walking to Bulimba Ferry Terminal

All of the finished work can be viewed on my website at


  1. Thanks for posting this Robyn, I couldn't stay to hear it on the night. I love what you say about negative space and the space between things. We really do use space the way music composers use silence. I hadn't thought about it in those terms before.

    1. Thanks Wayne. The thing that helps me most with my painting is music!