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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Final Day at the Ekka - Day 10

I have just finished ten days straight of sketching at the Royal Queensland Show.

Rather than feeling tired, I felt kind of sad walking away. It's been interesting as an artist having a "job" to get to everyday, instead of going upstairs to the studio. Of course in both cases it is totally a case of self motivation.

My thoughts on the last day,-
"Is there anything I have missed"?
"Have I covered it all"?  - Impossible of course but I do think I have given it my best shot. My goal was to go along to the Ekka for the 10 days, capture what I could by working on location or en plein air and then come home and blog each night. I have managed to do that.

I've arrived at 9am each day and worked until about 4.30pm, went home for a break and then blogged at about 11.30pm. I could definitely do a day job like this if there was such a job for artists.

I have basically spent the 10 days observing and recording sights and settings, behaviour and body language.  People have been so polite and friendly even in the most crowded of spots, and members of the public have been genuinely surprised when they realised what I was doing. Parents in particular have made sure that small children understood what I was working on. Most kids love to draw so seeing the scene before them unfold on paper was a new experience for many of them. (Kids generally draw from imagination and memory, not from the scene before them.)

The first one I did today (shown above) was from the Pink Events Catering,  Dagwood Dog Outlet looking across Gregory Terrace. There are orange horseshoe shapes painted all over the bitumen which I didn't notice until I sat there.

This second one was also Gregory Terrace but looking in the other direction. I like to include the street furniture such as the type of signage that is usually edited out as it is a genuine part of the streescape. Lovely yellow and black No Parking sign in the foreground.

I had to include the famous Paddy's baked potatoes and I was happy that this family in the foreground stayed there just long enough for me to sketch them.

I also went back to the Dodgem cars to finish this one from yesterday. I have added a few more spectators and a lot more lights. So this was my final one on location. I will work on some bigger pieces after my October exhibition is over.

I have a few final thoughts I would like to share.  Sketching at the Ekka is not something that I imagine would appeal to many artists but the subject matter suits me down to ground. I love the variety and the action and my Urban Sketching training has made me develop skills I didn't have a few years ago.  Many of the exhibits at the Ekka come from the natural world and many of my particular interests are covered. Added to this there is all the visual drama of Side Show Alley which I find very stimulating also.

I made a few notes in the bus on the way home while the whole experience was still very fresh. I do feel  sense of relief that I managed to acquit myself well at Toowoomba, Manchester and now the Ekka , all back to back so to speak, without missing a beat.

A couple of final photos from today.

And now it is back to the studio but before that a tad of house cleaning to catch up on!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Brisbane Ekka Residency - Day 9

It's official, people really are my favourite subject. (I should broaden that to people and other things that are alive such as animals and trees). As I get to the Ekka each day it's all the people with different body types, clothes and body language that strike me as the thing I have to capture immediately.
This morning I had a coffee in the al fresco eating area in front of the RNA Council stand.

The guy on the left here was reading the paper and trying to provide a bit of shade for his face. The girls in the foreground were eating doughnuts for breakfast. Another perfect day as you can see.

I went back to the animal nursery area and while waiting for the bush poets and the shearers I spotted this dromedary who was the most elegant and motionless model I have had all week.

Her name is Fatima, she is 18 years old and she comes from Southern Cross Camels. Dozens of people photographed her while I stood there drawing her but she seemed oblivious or at least in a world of her own. She was sitting on her legs so I just did a profile portrait. While I was sketching Fatima, I just missed seeing a calf being born in the Dairy Pavilion. I did see a photo taken moments after the birth however.

In this image I have combined the Bush Poets and the Shearers in the one image as I sat there sketching while both were performed. The fleece is on top of the orange metal device on the right.

Finally today I ended up in Side-show alley and found a shady spot in front of the Dodgem cars.

Here I am in the courtyard outside the Fine Arts area.

Nine days down, one to go.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Brisbane Ekka Residency - Day 8

Today was the eighth  day of my Ekka residency and the most rewarding so far. I had a giant macaw on my head, got to hold a baby lamb and a fun photo opportunity at the Ekka love tree outside the Old Museum.

This Instagram setup appeared to be very popular. The tree looked amazing decorated with roses and red hearts and provided a great backdrop for the photos tagged #ekkalovetree for everyone to share the Ekka experience on social media. I even saw a whole primary school class getting in on the act.

Midmorning coffee time was in the Food and Beveridge Hall where I tried to give an indication of the hive of activity, shown below.

I have sketched a lot of people this week and two things I have noticed are, firstly so many people wear their sunglasses on top of their heads ( I was never allowed to do this a a teenager so I really notice it now) and secondly instead of carrying show bags around almost everyone seemed to have a backpack. And of course phone use seems to be at an all time high.

I have sketched horses, goats, chickens, ducks and people and I finally got around to the sheep. This champion ewe is called Dakabin Nyssa and she was bred at Dakabin State High School Sheep Stud. I met her handler Olivia and I got to cuddle the baby lamb after my painting was finished.

I overheard a few onlookers say they would never eat lamb again. I am a lifelong vegetarian so I had no such guilt pangs.

Finally I have to share the picture of me with the macaw on my head. I believe her name was Angela and she was heavier than she looks. She comes from the Maleny Botanic Gardens Bird World.
The Ekka is full of surprises!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Brisbane Ekka Residency - Day 7

There was one Pavilion I hadn't sketched inside (although I had done the exterior) and that was the Woolworth's Food Area. I made a beeline there first thing this morning and had a great view of all the Providores before there were too many people.

I got two done in this area and was able to sit comfortably at a table and paint in two directions. I enjoyed a Merlo coffee while watching these energetic and efficient baristas at work. They were delighted when I showed it to them. #merlomoments

The second one done in this spot was of Ilias the Greek and Butch's Smallgoods.  Just enough people around to get social atmosphere. The guys in the foreground were all wearing some uniform shirts having coffee before jumping up and disappearing. I knew that would happen so just blocked them in. Temporary patrons who have somewhere else to be asap!

I keep checking my Ekka map to see if there is any spot I have overlooked and I realised that I hadn't gone the whole length of the horse stable area. I can't stay away from the animals for long it seems.
This horse is called Warrego Landadon aka Hank and I swear he was motionless when I chose him to sketch but as soon as I started he became very curious and moved his head every which way. Consequently I have three different views of him. After his modelling session he then went off to compete in the Showjumping.

I finally made it to the Lumberjacks from Canada! It was a very funny show with a couple of death defying acts climbing the high pole. I decided to try and paint the whole setting including the audience. The lumberjacks were too far away to get much real action or detail. At least I finally found them!

And finally another onlooker took this photo of me at work below. I was in the back row of the grandstand, as high as I could get.

Another productive day. The question I get asked most often is what am going to do with all the drawings and paintings. Well I will do some larger paintings on canvas when I get back into the studio after the Ekka is finished and will show them at some stage.
If you want to keep posted just check in here occasionally!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ekka Artist in Residence - Day 6

Today was People's Day at the Ekka. It is always the most crowded day due to it being a public holiday and today was no exception.  I tried to concentrate on more figure drawing to fit in with this fact.

I chose a spot were there were a lot of children coming and going. This was the "Crazy Clowns" in the family fun area. The kids were the same size as the statue of Bob the Builder. People have asked me how I make my figures look real. The short answer is that they are real. The longer answer is that I never draw anything I don't see, and I work very quickly.

If a figure moves or walks away I wait for another one to come along so that the resulting drawings are really composite people from a couple of sources, but no less real because of this. I never resort to using a formula such as ovals for heads or triangles for torsos, as I dislike that kind of formulaic stylised image. My philosophy is "Don't make it up, just look."

This second one was done in the CWA (Country Women's Association) Tea Room. This is one of my favourite spots for a break. People are coming and going all the time and if possible I get a seat in the corner.

I did have one lady comment to me that she thought very few people paint just ordinary life.

It was great to have a chance to draw these crocheted toys. I overheard lots of conversations about the exhibits as I sat there, covering the whole spectrum from "Wow, look at that amazing crocheting" to "I could do that".

There is a lot of detail in these ones I did today and they seemed to take more time. I worked all day and only managed three!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Artist in Residence at the Ekka - Day 5

Today I am starting with my last image first as it is the most colourful so far and shows how my confidence to work quickly is growing as I warm to my subject matter. I had a grassy spot to sit and view this "Fishing Tent" in the Family Fun area. That is a black cut out angler on the roof although he looks a bit more sinister than a fisherman.

My first picture of the morning was this view of the main arena including the iconic clock tower.  There was some horse action, a bit of dressage and later some trotting. I have tried to indicate both. I was working on this one when I did the Channel 9 interview. For the people in the far grandstand I did draw actual people, in a blind contour drawing kind of way, looking more at the people than my paper.

This image of people grew in an organic way. I just grabbed whoever I could see at different stages in the Al Fresco area outside the Fine Arts Pavilion. I do these people sketches in my downtime, whenever I am having a coffee myself. Exhibition Station is in the background.

Finally made it to the Cattleman's Bar and yes I did have drink and a chat, and patrons were very interested in what I was doing. It is no exaggeration that these people were all on their phones. I used a different paper for this one, a brown craft paper with a swish of shellac and some pastel primer. I have all sorts of papers in my folder all cut to a standard size.

And here is the evidence!

This is me working on the sketch of the Cattleman's Bar, sitting directly opposite.

Still haven't made it to the Lumberjacks from Canada!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ekka Residency - Day 4

I didn't get to sketch any animals yesterday so today I made a beeline for the Goat Pavilion. The Australian-flag-draped female goat caught my eye although she seemed oblivious to the overnight Olympic medal tally.

These animals are SO curious. The black one at the bottom had a nice motionless position until I started drawing her. She kept reaching out her head to see what I was doing. She wasn't too impressed because then she started nodding off. If you look closely at the two little kids top right you will see that there is a third black one almost totally hidden. I didn't notice her until I was half way through.

The goats are right next to the Poultry Section so I popped in there for another visit. The amount of variety in these bird breeds is amazing. I spoke to one of the breeders and she said that judging these birds depends on the perfect silhouette from the side. I couldn't get to see this because of the cages.

This is one I started yesterday but didn't get finished so I spent a bit more time on it. Bromeliads and Orchids.

For this last one, I was encouraged to sit right in front of the display in quite a prominent position. Not the kind of spot I would have chosen as I had quite an audience watching me work. I did this pretty fast as a result! So much work must go into putting these displays together. This one was full of tiger lilies, orchids and succulents. That is a second prize banner in the foreground.

Robyn Bauer

Finally a couple of shots of me working which I am happy to have as a record. This one shows the purple case I have been dragging behind me all week with my art materials. I also have a little fold up stool.

Robyn Bauer

There is an Ekka photographer who is doing the rounds in an official capacity.

Just look for the hashtag #theekka

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ekka Artist in Residence Day 3

When you ask people what they actually like about the Ekka, the answer is usually "the cows" and then "the cakes" so I thought that today I'd better get a spot in front of the cake cabinet before it got too crowded.

As I sat doing this, I was recognised by a few Dalby people (due no doubt to me mentioning my origins on the ABC story) which was lovely.

Apparently you are not allowed to photograph the cakes due to design copyright but as you can see I caught several people doing so. Yet another example where the sketcher is accepted where the camera is not.

I should mention at this point that there is a large behind-the-scenes room for the use of stewards, that I have been given access to for tea/coffee and having a breather. I was chatting to one of the stewards about what people associated most with the Ekka. I mentioned the wood-chopping and how I intended to include that.

Steward; "Did you know we have Lumberjacks from Canada here this year"?

Me;  "Lumberjacks from Canada"?

Steward;  "Would you be interested in sketching Lumberjacks from Canada? The're just here for the Ekka."

Me; "Yes I think Lumberjacks from Canada are definitely something that as Artist in Residence I should give some attention to..."

I headed to a tent where I found Stockmen (not Lumberjacks) but thought them well worth drawing. They moved so fast it was very difficult to capture them but this gives a general impression, particularly of the bright orange flame each was using to forge a horseshoe.

I headed towards the wood-chopping arena and found the Jack and Jill cross saw competition in progress. This view gave me an opportunity to sketch the crowd in the opposite grandstand. This drawing covers several events including the tree climbing event. Again everything was fast moving. (no lumberjacks here)

By this stage of the day I had done a fair bit of fine pen work and felt like splashing some paint around. Crossing Gregory Terrace however I saw these white cranes against the blue sky and had to stop to record that. There was quite a queue for the Strawberry Sundae.

I finally decided that to really splash some paint I would have to head to the Garden Clubs and I did this side view through the bromeliads to the orchids.

Lumberjacks will have to wait!