In Your Words – The Robinson Project

Catalogue essay by Erin Wilson, from the exhibition In Your Words on at Devonport Regional Gallery until 24th February 2019

In Your Words grid
Photographs by Bert and Albert Robinson, from the Robinson Collection

If I was to ask anyone familiar with the Robinson Collection to describe to me what it was, I believe most would say it is a collection of historic black and white photographs. This has been the public face of the Robinson Collection over the past twenty years, as photographic prints of the collection have been displayed annually in the Gallery. However, as the Curator of this magnificent collection, I would describe it slightly differently. To begin with, I would say this is a collection of photographic negatives – because it is in fact an archive of tens of thousands of negatives, rather than photographs, from the Robinson & Son Photographic Studio.

There is something special about archives, which rouses an entirely different experience than viewing fragments of archives, already interpreted, arranged and presented in a museum or gallery. While the photographic prints can be highly evocative, I have witnessed how viewing the archive itself can evoke an entirely different reaction. When the Robinson Collection is described by the period or region it covers, or the number of negatives it contains, it is still somewhat abstract. However, standing in front of row upon row, shelf upon shelf of archival boxes each containing hundreds of negatives; holding original, yellowing Kodak boxes; or catching the distinct smell of the nitrate negatives, has a power of its own. It is only when going to the source of the archive that you can get a sense of the magnitude of this collection, both in its scale and historical value.

For each negative selected and displayed in the Gallery, there are thousands of others that have only been seen by a few sets of eyes. My interest as the Curator of this collection lies in what is hidden and what is absent, and the potential of bridging these gaps. As this collection is cared for and displayed in an art gallery, there is a tendency to treat the photographs as fine art objects – particularly when so many are visually powerful and beautiful. However, these photographs were the snapshots of the day when owning a personal camera was rare, and this task lay with commercial studio photographers. It is significant that the Robinsons were commercial studio photographers – their aim was never to holistically capture life in the region, and as such the collection is not a complete or comprehensive historical record.

However, I do not see this incompleteness as a shortcoming, but as a starting point with immeasurable potential. What this incompleteness means is that the value of this collection is not limited to the physical archive. This collection already extends beyond the Gallery’s archive. Each of these negatives existed to produce an original print, and these original prints can still be found in countless photo albums and on living room walls across the region. What has become clear to me in considering this incompleteness is that the Robinson Collection is not only an amazing resource for the community, but likewise, the community are an invaluable resource for the Robinson Collection. These photographs capture snippets of a time now passed, but the knowledge of those times lies in the experiences and memories of those who lived them.

As such, I have begun a project which aims to strengthen the connection between the Robinson archive and its community. Traditionally, a Curator will select pieces from a collection for display in a gallery, and community members will visit the gallery to view the selected pieces. My aim is to disrupt this linear approach, so that the archive itself becomes more accessible, and the gallery is as much a site for the community to share their knowledge as it is for gaining knowledge. This desire is taking form in the design of a series of collaborative curatorial experiments under the banner of ‘The Robinson Project’. The first iteration, this exhibition, is titled In Your Words. This exhibition has been the first step in connecting members of the community directly with this archive: members of the community who lived and worked in Devonport and its surrounds in the period the Robinsons were photographing, whose knowledge and memories of this period are invaluable – and need to be recorded.

As I mentioned earlier, for every photograph displayed, thousands are not. It is important to critically examine what is shown, what is not, and how this process of selection could be approached differently. As such, for this exhibition I engaged nine members of different parts of the community, and their stories, as the starting point: simple stories from each about their lives and experiences in Devonport, which will be beautifully familiar and nostalgic for some, and a unique insight into a time now passed for others. After sharing these stories, each went through the archive to find photographs to pair with these stories; photographs which then played their own role, eliciting more memories and details to add to the richness of the stories told.

The experience of approaching the collection in this way, through the stories and perspectives of those who lived the archive, reinforced for me the limitations of individual curators such as myself speaking on behalf of the collection. There are countless simple, but important examples. If it were not for this process, I would have believed the Fruit Palace was simply a fruit shop – a reasonable assumption given the window display of fruit in the photograph. Without speaking with Judy and Joe I would never have known that there was a milk bar out the back that was the place to be for local high school students on a Friday night in the 60s. Similarly, without speaking to Janice about the fire station or Arden about the Haines whistle, I wouldn’t have any awareness of some of the sounds of Devonport which could never be captured in a photograph – nor would many others viewing these photographs.

The experience of gaining different perspectives on life in the region is also an invaluable result of this approach. This could be as simple as two perspectives of the same photograph or event, such as the Devonport Show, which Bill called for 17 years, and Stephen recounted attending as a child. Or more broadly, insights into the different experiences of Helen in East Devonport, Pat in Quoiba and Jim in William Street, who despite the differences in their childhoods each vividly recounted fond memories of Saturdays spent at the Star Theatre. Each of these personal recollections are made more vivid because of the Robinson photographs, yet also bring these images to life in a new way.

As you walk through the exhibition or read through the following pages, viewing these Robinson images and listening to the voices of those who have shared their stories, I hope you too are moved by the power of these simple but beautiful stories, and see the potential that lies in activating this archive as a site of shared memories, stories and the self-representation of the people of this region.

– Erin Wilson

*The Robinson Project is a series of collaborative curatorial projects involving community members and Curator Erin Wilson

On the move

It is obvious, the local community is greatly attached to the Gallery at Stewart Street. I have been asked countless times why it needs to move. The saying goes, “if I had a dollar for every time I was asked.” The answer is quite simple. Undeniably, the Stewart Street Gallery is a striking building with outstanding features such as the vaulted ceiling, but it is severely lacking in the most practical aspects for an art gallery.

When receiving one recent exhibition, Play On: The Art of Sport / Ten Years of the Basil Sellars Art Prize, two of the crates did not fit through the door. To make matters worse it was raining. Unpacking crates on the street is not a good look at the best of times and is simply out of the question in the rain.

Stewart Street has no loading bay on the street frontage, let alone attached to the building. Delivery vehicles hope that there is an empty space out the front or risk a fine by parking in the bus zone. There are no amenities in the building and patrons are asked to use the public toilets outside. There is no storage and the entrance would be non-compliant by today’s standards. Unseen by patrons, is the cramped office environment that is either sweltering in summer or freezing in winter.

When I worked at the Gallery in 2009, a feasibility study was being undertaken for an extension. This was not the first study. Vast improvements have been made to the building, but not to the extent to resolve some of the fundamental requirements for a regional gallery.

The move to the paranaple arts centre in Rooke Street is a giant leap forward. Not only does it address the shortcomings of Stewart Street (access, climate control, storage, public amenities, etc.) it also results in significant gains in exhibition space – which is really all the patron should be concerned with. The patron does not want to know about loading bays…

Stewart Street has approximately 140 square metres of floor space and with the built alcoves out of ‘temporary’ walls, has approximately 70 running metres of running wall space. The new Gallery will have just on 300 square metres of floorspace and approximately 116 running metres of wall space.

In addition is a 60 square metre room we are calling the Creative Space. It is a serviceable space to conduct workshops, hold meetings or use an exhibition space if necessary.

I have the pleasure of wearing a hardhat and safety vest to undertake a fortnightly site-visit. It makes an arts and culture guy feel rather manly. Each time I visit the construction site I get a better sense for the space. Last week the walls were lined. Soon it will be painted throughout. Then the carpet, joinery and finishing touches.

We will open on Friday 2 November with the opening of Tidal: City of Devonport Art Award. I cannot think of a more appropriate exhibition. Tidal is a highlight of our calendar that brings some of the most interesting contemporary work from throughout Australia to public view in Devonport.

The exhibition responds to the theme of tidal coastal living, characteristic of our region. We will also be opening with an exhibition from our Robinson Collection. Our Curator Erin Wilson has been working diligently to collate a series of fascinating oral histories in relation to images from the Robinson Collection.

In Your Words: The Robinson Project contains over 100,000 photographic negatives capturing the social and commercial life in the region during the 20th century. It has opened this extensive collection to members of the Devonport community, who have explored the archive, selected negatives that resonate with them, and recorded oral histories elicited by these photographs.

In Your Words exhibition will bring together thirty photographs selected by nine members of the Devonport community, presented alongside oral history excerpts, both text and audio, through which they share their memories and stories of the region, in their own words.

I am looking forward to the move. It will bring together staff from our Gallery, Theatre and Visitor Information Centre into the one building and operation. It will result in a team of people capable of delivering unknown potential. The possibilities for the future look very exciting.

~ Geoffrey Dobson, Convention & Arts Director

Paranaple Arts Centre

Allan Francis, Baptist Church once; Art Gallery now 1987, from Homes of Devon 6: Open House, b&w photograph, DCC Permanent Collection, acc. 1987.029
Courthouse, Devonport, n.d. The Robinson Collection, R5844, DCC Permanent Collection

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – Edith Holmes (1893 – 1973)

Edith Holmes was born in Hamilton, Tasmania in 1893. While spending the majority of her life living in Moonah, Hobart, Holmes grew up in Devonport as the third of five children. Both of her parents were teachers; her father William N. Holmes a schoolmaster from Ireland and her mother Lilla Edith Homes a Tasmanian-born school teacher. Edith’s father had abilities in calligraphy and drawing, and Edith also showed an interest in art from an early age. It has been suggested that her first painting tutor may have been Annie Cocker, who is also represented in the DCC Permanent Collection.

Holmes later continued her art studies at the Hobart Technical College, where she completed a year-long course titled ‘Still Life Oil Painting’ in 1918. From 1930 to 1931, she studied at the Julian Ashton School of Arts in Sydney, alongside George Lambert and Thea Proctor. During the 1950s and 60s, Holmes travelled overseas, where she was exposed to new artistic influences. She would paint throughout her life, from her first documented work Still life with strawberries (1906), continuing into the early 1970s, shortly before her death. As well as notable artist, Holmes was widely recognised as a philanthropist and environmentalist.

The DCC Permanent Collection holds nine works by Holmes, seven of which are portraits. While painting across portraiture, landscape and still life, in her later years Holmes focused more on portraiture. It is undoubtedly her portraits for which she is best known, and over the years Holmes’ paintings were included in eight Archibald Prize exhibitions.

Portraits from the DCC Permanent Collection:

LEFT: Edith HOLMES, William Lassan Holmes (c1930s), oil on canvas board, RIGHT: Edith HOLMES, William N. Holmes Esq. (c1936-40), oil on canvas board

William Holmes, depicted in the two paintings above, was Edith’s father. The portrait on the left was included in the 1935 Archibald Prize, the first of the artist’s works to be accepted into the exhibition. William Holmes was a school teacher, who migrated to Tasmania in 1881, and he was known as a strong athlete, particularly in cricket. This portrait was displayed in the dining room of the family home Dilkhoosha, where Edith usually painted.

LEFT: Edith HOLMES, Mother (c1936), oil on canvas board, RIGHT: Edith HOLMES, Mrs Lilla Edith Holmes (1947-51), oil on canvas board

There are four known portraits that Edith painted of her mother, Lilla Edith Holmes, three of which survive, and two of which (above) are held in the DCC Permanent Collection. Edith’s mother had five children including Edith, and worked with her husband William as an assistant teacher. She was said to have a keen sense of colour, and to be very supportive of Edith’s artistic pursuits.

LEFT: Edith HOLMES, Joan (1952), oil on canvas board, RIGHT: Edith HOLMES, Patsy Adam Smith; OBE, AO (c.1960-69), oil painting

Joan Dabrowski, depicted in the portrait on the left, was Edith’s niece. Joan’s mother died when she was young, and following her death Joan spent a substantial amount of time with Edith either at Dilkhoosha, or out sketching, and the two remained close in the later years of Edith’s life. Patsy Adam Smith (1924-2001), depicted in the portrait on the right, was a celebrated author who grew up in regional Victoria, and would at times stay in Hobart while working as a trading vessel radio operator.

Holmes’ portraits were almost always painted at Dilkhoosha, her Moonah home, where until 1940 she primarily worked in a garden shed. Later, after the death of her father, she would work primarily in the home’s drawing room. Often these portraits, including those held in the DCC Permanent Collection, were of her family and friends, with Holmes stating that she sought to ‘convey their character in her art.’

-Erin Wilson, Curator

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here


Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – Michael Schlitz

2005.005 Michael Schlitz
Michael SCHLITZ, Explore the Sea II, 1998-1999, diptych, handmade print on paper

Michael Schlitz is a Tasmanian printmaker, who lives in the Huon Valley. He studied a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, and a Bachelor of Fine Art (Hons) and Master of Fine Art at the Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania.

Schlitz is an artist whose lifestyle, practice and artworks each sensitively engage with ideas about our relationship with nature. As with many Tasmanian artists held in the DCC Permanent Collection, Schlitz explores the natural environment through his work, however his approach is distinctly holistic. The artist lives and works in relative seclusion, and often without luxuries such as electricity and running water, and the influence of this sustainable, low impact lifestyle is evident in his work.

Through his prints, Schlitz engages with the emotions humans experience in nature, particularly in isolation. These range from our psychological connections with our natural surrounds, as places of quiet contemplation and revelation; our tentative wariness of untamed landscapes; and our continual, communal disregard for the fragility of nature and the impact we have upon its systems. In this way, Schlitz’s work is both highly personal, and politically significant.

The lone, secluded figure is often the subject of Schlitz’s works, including Explore the Sea II 1998-99, held in the DCC Permanent Collection. In this work, the figure is only partially visible. He leans forward, his stance emulating the exploration referred to in the title, which also gives the only other hint as to his surroundings. The image is separated into two halves, which are placed out of alignment, leaving the figure disjointed. He is also only partially visible, most significantly his head remaining outside of the frame, placing the viewer at a voyeuristic distance from this explorer’s scene.

The thick, black outline of the figure in this work, along with the simplistic form and muted colours, reflect Schlitz’s distinctive style. His works have a raw quality that is echoed in the artist’s relief woodblock printing process. Schlitz prints by hand, and often on a large scale. He draws his forms on to the woodblock with a water based ink, before gouging a series of parallel lines across the surface of the block, using only a v-gouge as a tool. This process gives the image a unique textured appearance with a breadth of tones, rather than placing a distinct emphasis on positive and negative spaces.

Schlitz has discussed the complexity that can come from working simply, and how it can be difficult to reduce an idea to a simplistic form; a philosophy which he applies both to the composition of his works and his printmaking process. Schlitz has also referred to this process as being a meditative experience, and viewing and contemplating his works can elicit a similar response in viewers.

-Erin Wilson, Curator

You can view more of Michael Schlitz’s work on his website 

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here

Past & Present Tense : 20 years of the Robinson Collection

Bert Robinson Studio, Circa 1930, Robinson Collection R2735.1
Bert Robinson’s Studio, c.1930, R2735.1

Susan Sontag, in her discussion of the inventory of photography since 1839, noted that seemingly everything has been captured in a photograph. This must certainly have seemed the case when twenty years ago, in 1997, Keri Whiteley set about curating the first exhibition of photographic prints from the Robinson Collection, Robinson & Son: A Photographic Studio, for Devonport Regional Gallery. This inaugural exhibition provided the public with their first glimpse into the tens of thousands of photographs taken by Bert and Albert Robinson in North-West Tasmania, over a 50-year period during the mid-20th century.

Over the past twenty years, Devonport Regional Gallery has held sixteen Robinson Collection exhibitions that have collectively served as a window into life on the North-West Coast of Tasmania during the 20th century. Through these exhibitions, the Robinson Collection continues to be a source of intrigue, nostalgia and reverence for Gallery staff, community members and visitors alike. Past & Present Tense features a selection of photographic prints from each Robinson exhibition to date, accompanied by reflections from artists, curators, researchers, volunteers and others who have come to know the collection over the past two decades. Past & Present Tense also prompts visitors to reflect on the value of this collection, and share their ideas for the next chapter of the Robinson archive.

-Erin Wilson, Curator

Each of the images below has been selected by someone who has come to know the collection; each sharing why this photograph has resonated with them.


Bert Robinson, date unknown, Robinson Collection R1360
Bert Robinson, date unknown, R1360

‘This beautifully framed photo of Pop was taken by my father; it captures a relaxed Bluff Beach with his lifesaver mates. I’m unsure if Dad orchestrated his father’s quizzical look or pop heard noises behind him, but I love that in 2017, I am still able to access this intimate moment.’

-Dave Robinson, son of Albert Robinson


R1643.1North Fenton Street, Devonport, 1942 cat
North Fenton Street, Devonport 1942, R1643.1

‘Some of the most fascinating images are those cloaked in obscurity – such as this funeral procession along one of Devonport’s suburban streets. We can look at such images as something outside of and beyond our own reality, but equally, they permit a personal, and at times confronting, avenue through which to consider social assumptions and cultural practices. ‘

-Alison Savage, Guest Curator, Tales from Suburbia 2011


YORK, 1930, Robinson Collection R82
YORK, 1930, R82

‘The act of art making and what we respond to, that image that makes one stop, fascinates me. This image reminds me of my grandmother, her garden, and the energy she would deliver to this space.  The last time I saw her I was four. She was a kind, generous person.  That is why I remember her so vividly.’

-Lisa Garland, Artist ReViewing 2015


Rodneys Bus Line_09-06-17
Motors Pty Ltd, Russell’s Buses, 1948, R3190.6
(Left to right) Taxi Driver; J.E. (Jack) Russell, Bus Drivers; Stan Willie, Raymond Russell, Jim Blanche, Ralph Williams, Billy Marquis, Leo Smith, Gordon Russell.

‘The photo is of my grandfather John Russell with his fleet of buses and hire car. The photo was taken at the Bluff together with two of his sons and other drivers. Typical of the time the drivers are wearing dust coats. Note the stone border in the foreground, long gone.’

Rodney Russell, Robinson Collection volunteer from 1993


R4494 Car travelling along road, orchard area, 1936 cat
Car Travelling along road, orchard area, 1936, R4494

‘Seeing this photograph for me recalled Lloyd Rees’ painting The Road to Berry (1946–47). The elevation, the angle of the road and the framing of Rees’ work stayed with me as an exercise of precision and poetry, and was recalled many times in the North-West Tasmanian landscape. For me, the Robinson image is its precursor.’

-Dunja Rmandic, Curator of Collections 2013-2015


Past & Present Tense : 20 years of the Robinson Collection is on display at Devonport Regional Gallery until 27 August 2017.

For more information on the Devonport City Council Permanent Collection, visit the Devonport Regional Gallery website.

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – David Stephenson

David STEPHENSON, Theatine Church, 1663, Munich, Germany, 1995/2000, colour photograph

David Stephenson was born in Washington DC, USA in 1955, before relocating to Hobart to teach at the School of Art, University of Tasmania. Stephenson is a photographer who throughout his career has explored the idea of the sublime; that which inspires in us a sense of wonder or awe. While many artists have pursued the idea of the sublime through their work, for Stephenson this concept has been the foundation of his practice.

Stephenson’s inquiry into the sublime has seen him explore both natural and architectural sites, taking him from the central Australian outback, to the Arctic and Antarctic, and on travels throughout Europe. The four photographs by Stephenson held in the DCC Permanent Collection were taken by the artist as he travelled across Europe, visiting places of worship and photographing these ornate structures. These photographs are part of a Stephenson’s Dome series, which spans from 1993-2005 and numbers over one hundred images.

David STEPHENSON, Capella Condestable Cathedral 1482, Burgos, Spain, 1993/1995, colour photograph

These striking images are recognisable as domes, but are also to a degree abstracted, each visually reminiscent of the image produced by a kaleidoscope. The photographs are both intricately detailed viewpoints of the decorative details of the domes, as well as evidence of the engineering feats of these mammoth structures. They provide a unique opportunity to linger upon details in a way that would be impossible within the space, due to both the dizzying effect of looking above and from attempting to ascertain details from the distance of the ground.

There is much symbolism associated with domes, from circles being read as representative of perfection or eternity, to the association of domes with royalty or the heavens. This symbolism is significant to Stephenson’s work, as while travelling through Europe in search of domes, he also photographed the night skies of the cities he visited, capturing both their beauty and their light pollution. The combination of these photographs seems to bridge the space between the landscape, or cityscape, and the skies or heavens; between the awe of the natural and the man-made sublime.

David STEPHENSON, Avila Chapel, Santa Maria in Trastavere, 1680, Rome, Italy, 1993/1995, colour photograph

Both the awe-inspiring natural landscapes and the religious structures photographed by Stephenson may be considered sacred spaces – both can offer quiet places of reflection, contemplation and solace. The juxtaposition of these two manifestations of the sublime is powerful, as nature can provide a similar sense of awe and spiritual experiences for some as religion does for others. Part of this awe stems from the ability of both nature, and expansive and ornate architecture to make us aware of our own scale; of how we are simultaneously insignificant in the grand scheme of things, while also capable of achieving great feats, such as the architectural forms captured in these photographs.

-Erin Wilson, Curator

You can view more of David Stephenson’s work on his website and on The Derwent Project website

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here

International Museums Day at DRG – 18 May 2017

This year Devonport Regional Gallery marked International Museums Day by inviting members of the Gallery’s Friends Committee, Special Interest Group, and the Droogs young members, to trawl through the DCC Permanent Collection. Each selected a work that spoke to them, and then presented their thoughts, findings and insights about the works at our International Museums Day event.

Viv Breheney presenting Patsy Adam Smith, by Edith Holmes

Several participants were drawn to portraits, with Special Interest Group member Viv Breheney selecting a painting of Patsy Adam Smith by Edith Holmes, as she also knew both women personally, and had colourful anecdotes to share. Barbie Kjar’s work Falling Cups was selected by Friends Committee President Karen Mathew. This work was highlighted on our blog recently, so Karen’s selection presented a great opportunity to bring the work out in the flesh for discussion.

Friends Committee Member Robert Apse selected a raku bowl by Harold Ramsden, who he has known personally. As Ramsden taught ceramics at Devonport TAFE in the 1980s, several audience members were familiar with his work, and following Robert’s discussion of the raku bowl other members of the audience with an interest and expertise in ceramics, shared their own knowledge about Ramsden and his work.

Robert Apse presenting Harold Ramsden’s Raku bowl

Another Droog, Eleanor McCormack trawled through some of the collection’s works on paper, before being drawn to a print by Jim Logan titled Lamina Mneumonic. Eleanor delved into the meaning behind the work, discussing ideas of the physical body vs. the mental, and the problematic nature of our bodies being the way people see us, rather than considering our ideas.

Two photographs from the Robinson Collection were selected for quite different, but both personal reasons. One was selected by Brian Sollors, who devotes his time every week to scanning negatives from the Robinson Collection. Brian presented both the original negative, which shows the façade of the Robinson & Son Photographic Studio in Devonport, alongside a print of the image, which he had recently scanned and worked on for our upcoming exhibition Past & Present Tense: 20 years of the Robinson Collection, opening in July.

Ellie Ray with a Robinson Collection negative, for Brian Sollors’ presentation

Another Robinson Collection print was selected by one of the gallery casual staff members and Droog, Sarah Beckett. Sarah was immediately taken by the image, which shows two young girls in a manicured backyard, as it sparked early memories from the house she grew up in in New South Wales, long after this photograph was taken in Tasmania. Sarah shared some of her formative memories from this house, as well as reflecting on how she could relate so strongly to an image of a house she had never set foot in. The audience members were able again to shed more light on the work, identifying the location where this house still stands in Devonport.

Sarah Beckett presenting a Robinson Collection print

This year’s International Museums Day event provided a unique opportunity for those who dedicate their time and energy to supporting the gallery, to get a behind the scenes look at the DCC Permanent Collection. The event also proved a valuable opportunity for members of the community to see works otherwise kept in storage, to hear the insights of other community members, and to share in the discussion of the works in the DCC Permanent Collection.

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – Barbie Kjar

Kjar - Falling Cups
Barbie KJAR, Falling Cups 1993, pastel on drypoint

Tasmanian artist Barbie Kjar is widely known for her portraiture, her distinctive style and use of colour, and the whimsical quality that is characteristic of her figurative works.

Kjar was born in Burnie, Tasmania in 1957 and completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at the University of Tasmania, as well as a Master of Fine Art at RMIT, Melbourne. Prior to her visual arts studies, Kjar studied English and Education, and literature has been a persistent influence on her practice. The artist has cited a range of writers including Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson as influences, while the work Come to me, oh green glass buoy 1996, from the DCC Permanent Collection, is based on a poem of the same title by Tasmanian author Sue Moss. Furthermore, the sea and dance have also been discussed by Kjar as being personal influences reflected in her practice. The DCC Permanent Collection holds three of Kjar’s works, spanning a period from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. Though Kjar’s practice has broadened since this period, with sculpture now increasingly a focus of the artist, her work continues to be imbued with the distinct style for which she is known, and of which the DCC works are examples.

Kjar - Come to me...
Barbie KJAR, Come to me, oh green glass buoy 1996, pastel on paper

While Kjar’s work is visually distinct, her unique personal perspective on portraiture and its processes contributes to the distinctness of her work. Kjar views portraiture as a deeply personal process that evolves and develops over time, rather than entertaining the belief that a work can be planned in detail from the outset. She has referred to the process as a conversation, wherein it is essential that both the artist and the subject are open to a degree of exposure. This conversation takes time; time which Kjar is willing to devote in order for those sitting for her portraits to become comfortable, and in turn open to being truly observed.

This sensitivity allows Kjar to extract and convey the narratives revealed within her sitters, exploring the story of a person, rather than simply capturing their likeness. Rather than attempting to present a biographical narrative, Kjar pursues the essence of the person, derived both from conversation and an acute observation of their facial features and expressions. This process reflects Kjar’s assertion of the fundamental importance of the eyes and the gaze in portraiture.

The time Kjar spends with the subjects of her portraits extends further to her process. She begins drawing from life, using charcoal or watercolour, before determining her point of focus. Kjar has been drawing since school, and although working across a variety of mediums, she has expressed a particular affinity for printmaking. Having studied etching, lithography and screen printing at the University of Tasmania, Kjar discovered her likening to the feeling of peeling off the paper after running the plate through the press.

Known for her drypoints, having been referred to as one of the great masters of the medium by art critic Sasha Grishin, Kjar uses an electric engraver to achieve lines that appear hand drawn, and have been praised recurrently for their velvety quality. Works such as Falling Cups 1993 from the DCC Permanent Collection evidence this skill, while reflecting Kjar’s goal; ‘to draw people well, really well… and to seek symbols and layers which investigate the meaning of life’ (Barbie Kjar, ABC Radio interview with Barbara Pongratz, Artist’s facial fascination, 29th August 2003).

-Erin Wilson, Curator of Collections

You can view more of Barbie Kjar’s works on her website, or through Bett Gallery

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – David Keeling


DRG 1-1a 2001.009 David Keeling_Headland 1995_Painting
David KEELING, Headland 1995, oil on board

David Keeling was born in Launceston in 1951, and now lives and works in Hobart. He studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Tasmanian School of Art, Hobart and a Master of Fine Art at RMIT, Melbourne. Keeling is widely recognised for his landscape paintings, through which he considers the ongoing flux of our presence in, and impact upon, the natural environment.

Throughout his practice, Keeling has explored the conflicting priorities of nature and culture; a significant consideration of life in Tasmania. As a body of work, Keeling’s paintings give insight into the Tasmanian landscape, tracing some of the social, cultural and ecological circumstances it has seen unfold. The perspectives of the landscape Keeling has considered have been both contemporary and historic, from elements of the sublime, the romantic and the nostalgic, to the familiar banality of our everyday urban surroundings. His practice is encompassed by the belief that we must move beyond these ‘comfortable’ views of our surrounds if we are to have a meaningful impact on the preservation of our environment in an increasingly industrialised world.

Keeling has stated that for him the process of painting is contemplative, this spirit of contemplation being extended to the viewer, as the impact of each work is heightened by its imbued ambiguity. Earlier in his practice, Keeling encouraged audiences to consider the way they view their natural surroundings, discouraging an overly romanticised perspective of the landscape, without denying its compelling beauty and awe. More recently, Keeling has presented the landscape bounded by the practical necessities of the man-made, striking the balance between an appreciation of beauty and an awareness of the impacts of our everyday lives on the environment. In these more recent works, Keeling has moved away from depicting more generic, sweeping vistas, to portrayals of places we encounter every day. Throughout his practice however, the artist has consistently incorporated into the landscape, elements that literally or symbolically connote a human presence.

DRG 1-2 1994.006 David Leeling_Frame 1992_Painting
David KEELING, Frame 1992, oil on linen

The Devonport City Council Permanent Collection holds several of Keeling’s works, including Frame 1992 and Headland 1995, which was completed in the mid-1990s, following the artist’s residency at the Australia Council London studio. Headland is dominated by a pair of wrought iron gates, slightly ajar, framing a nonspecific golden hillside. Keeling often featured gates in his work during this period, ‘in reference to our rich heritage of wrought iron work’. This painting also connotes the imposition of people into the pristine environment, while referring to issues of land ownership.

Like Headland, Frame also depicts a nonspecific landscape, with a luminous yellow shape seemingly floating in the centre of the hillside scene. This narrow shape recalls the simplified outline of a house in a child’s drawing, and while in some ways unobtrusive, connotes man-made structures. Despite its small ‘footprint’, this form dramatically alters and disrupts the outlook. In Frame, Keeling has depicted the landscape from an aerial perspective, ‘as if the viewer were floating over the vista’. These elements of the surreal in early works, such as those in the DCC Permanent Collection, conjure the feeling of an unnerving intrusion into the landscape, which reflects Keeling’s aim to unsettle our ‘comfortable’ views of the environment we continue to impact upon.

-Erin Wilson, Curator of Collections

You can view more of David Keeling’s works here

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – Alan Young

Alan YOUNG, Wine, Dance and Music 2006, mixed media on canvas

Alan Young was born in Scotland in 1980, and arrived in Australia in 1987, where he later studied Fine Art at the University of Tasmania. Young’s paintings capture a vast array of situations he sees and experiences in his everyday life, sometimes presenting discernible narratives and other times just snippets of information. Though depicting a broad range people and events, Young’s paintings are indisputably connected through his distinct visual style; his characteristic use of bold colours, and the formation of scenes which sit in a space that is not entirely figurative or abstract.

Though the sites and subjects of Young’s paintings vary broadly, from street scenes and parties to beaches and sports fields, music and dancing is a recurring theme, including in Young’s DCC Permanent Collection work Wine, Dance and Music. Young’s interest in music originally developed as a teenager, alongside his interest in painting, and the two remain uniquely connected as music is not only the subject of many of his works; he also often dances while he paints.

At the time that Wine, Dance and Music was painted, Young was experiencing a frustration with aspects of club culture, less so with the music itself, and more so with the sincerity of the scene and its associated drinking and drug cultures. However, Young has stated that his critique of music culture has since expanded to his more recent exploration of the links between music, movement and art more broadly. In his recent exhibition Dance While Everybody is Watching at Moonah Arts Centre, Young encouraged people to dance to the music playing in the gallery space while viewing the exhibition. Young’s concept was inspired by an article written by the late disability advocate Stella Young, ‘who argued that no matter what kind of disability you live with you should be able to dance without being stared at, pitied or commented on’. Young’s connection to this article stems from his own disability, which causes the irregular movements that have become a key part of his style, through the unique energy and movement conveyed through each shape and brush stroke.

Beyond the themes of music and movement, Young has expressed an interest in the relationship between people and place, stating that he finds it difficult to separate the two. The places depicted in paintings like Wine, Dance and Music are almost personified, this again stemming from the energy expressed through his work. As Young paints his everyday experiences and elements of the world that resonate with him, music, parties and streetscapes become their own vibrant characters in his stories.

-Erin Wilson, Curator of Collections

You can view more of Alan Young’s works through his website

Coming up in 2017, Alan Young has been invited to participate in the University of Queensland’s National Self-Portrait Prize exhibition, as well as having his work featured in the exhibition Glover in Arcadia exhibition at The Barn at Rosny Farm in April.

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here