Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paddington Portrait Project 1

Throughout history, the subjects in painted portraits have traditionally been the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful. It has always been elitist and remains so with the subjects painted for the Archibald Prize generally celebrities these days. People who are larger than life in more ways than one. I find each year I am enjoying the Archibald less and less.
To quote Robert Henri

"Salon pictures are a special and very overgrown and mongrel breed". 

 Or closer to home John McDonald speaks of  a good Archibald year as one in which he is not "gasping in disbelief'. (2012)

The portraits that move me the most are more intimate and dare I say more authentic. What Christopher Allen describes as  "a mutual connection between artist and sitter that makes a good portrait the crystallisation of a relationship" . 

Even when you consider the greatest of the Old Master portraitists, some of their most moving works are the more personal ones eg. Velasquez's portrait of his manservant, Hogarth's portraits of his servants.


I believe the Archibald has become more about who is painted than how well they are painted.

I have started a project of my own which is decidedly anti-Archibald. I want to paint ordinary people, men, women and children in a much more egalitarian way. I knew I would have to build up to this, get plenty of practice, not having done portraiture consistently for a couple of years.

I was also influenced by the conceptual work of Marina Abramovic with her piece "The Artist is Present", in which she sat in an art gallery and people sat and faced her for hours on end.

Marina Abramovic

I find this work and this idea intensely moving, so I decided early on that eye contact and a front on viewpoint was essential to achieve what I was after.

I like art that looks back. I imagine a whole wall of ordinary people looking back.

Robyn Bauer Studio

So this is it. I have launched the project. This is my studio wall with my progress so far.

I have set myself guidelines which may change or develop as time goes on. I am not sure where the project will lead. For now my guidelines are

* Everything is done from life in two or three sittings of about two hours each. Not exactly alla prima as I like the paint to fully dry so I can make adjustments boldly.
* Eye contact, front on
* Canvas size 40 x 40 cm prepared with a swish of raw umber. Heads generally about life sized. maybe a little larger.
* I will paint anyone who wants to be part of the project
* Ideally I would like a balance of different ages, personalities, ethnicities, gender but I don't have full control over this
* No photography

I have had to warn all my sitters that the very entertaining show "Anh's Brush with Fame" is exactly that "Entertainment" and that I would not be psychoanalyzing them, nor were they expected to keep on chatting. We saved the chat for the breaks. I also explained that while it appears that I am really staring at them I am actually making continual decisions about colour mixing, shapes, tone etc. It is they that have the opportunity to really look at me without interruption. I am too busy working to worry about what they may be thinking about me, although I've been told that I pull a lot of faces and I stand with my left hand on my hip!

Robyn Bauer with Viewfinder

And I use a viewfinder to make early decisions.

Here are some of the portraits in more or less chronological order.

 After I had exhausted the family members I had access to, I put a sign in the studio window asking for volunteers. I have had lots of generous strangers willing to give up fours hours or so.

After I had done a few I had the courage to post a few of them on Social Media and I got a few more volunteers. Initially I wanted some link to Paddington, however tenuous but then I figured coming to my Paddington studio was link enough.

Husbands have modelled and then wives. I have made some good new friends. I know John Singer Sargent said that every time he painted a portrait he lost a friend. I guess his patrons were trying to call the shots considering the prices he was charging.

I am also very interested in how the experience of sitting feels for my models. Martin Gayford when sitting for Lucian Freud's "Man with a Blue Scarf" said his motive for sitting was "an assertion of my own existence". He said "The experience of posing seems somewhere between transcendental meditation and a visit to the barbers". 
"There is a rather pleasant feeling of concentrating and being alert but no need to do anything at all. 

The conversations had during the breaks have been lovely. One on one conversation always works best for me. I have learned about all sorts of things, including the geography of the surrounding landscape seen from my back deck. And several of my drawing boards have been expertly cut down for me by a master carpenter, seen above.

Keeping the backgrounds simple but accurate as far as my studio lighting goes, has also been an important factor. I have a black sheet up as a backdrop and it is magic for the contrast of beautiful white hair.

Basically my models are coming from pretty much everywhere. Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, friends of friends, different aspects of my life, including fellow choir members.

Some of them could do with another sitting but the sketchy finish suits others.

I want to have a balance of male and female but at this stage I am just painting whoever comes along.

Getting plenty of practice painting beards. They are all so amazingly different and I have added lead white to my palette for the first time.

And finally, if no-one comes along I have to resort to the family canines.

More to come.

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!