About Artist Robert Brownhall
I want to make paintings that say something about this age, the look of the city and the way the people live.
Robert Brownhall, 2016
Robert Brownhall is a realist painter, inspired by his local environment. Over twenty years of painting he has developed a unique, quirky style and a birds-eye view of scenes, characterised by a strong connection to place, moody nocturnes, broad sweep panoramas and gritty vignettes of urban life. These range from urban scenes and recreational areas in Brisbane and on the nearby Gold and Sunshine Coasts, to the ski slopes of New South Wales, and the New England Highway and Sydney. These paintings have significantly extended the visual poetry associated with these areas of work and play in Australia.
Brownhall’s realism is not slick. The humanity and visibility of his brushstroke is as important to him as that of his figures and there is a filmic quality in the work induced by the light and moody glazes. His power in defining, recording, his prescience in the capture of buildings and scenes now lost, frames the way that we have seen and experienced the psyche of the cities and towns in which he has worked.
He cites Edward Hopper and Pieter Bruegel as influences, but equally important to him is process. Brownhall draws — as a way of thinking through images, to record the scenes he observes — often from his car or high rise buildings, beaches and parks — and as an end in their own right. At night he may use a torch or street light, allowing the light to ‘paint’ the scene. Notes about colour, mood and ambience may be recorded on the pencil sketch. However he notes, “When I paint from a drawing, the scene changes with the translation”. Imagination fleshes out the sketch, creating the strong artistic personality evident in the finished work.
As a result, Brownhall’s paintings are not ‘real’ scenes any more than a novel is a transcription of life. There is something amiss, strange, or intriguing here, alongside a sensibility that lulls you into a false sense of reality.
He works from a home studio on an acreage property at Upper Brookfield, on Brisbane’s western outskirts, not far from where he grew up. He spends most of his time in the ‘studio’, up close and personal with family life, his art an integral part of the way that he, wife Sarah and their children live.
“Each show is a diary. A painting is my personal memory of a scene. I like to develop a good sense of proportion and composition in a painting, but also like a contemporary edge, visible brushstrokes. Colour mixing is important — as is tonality, and a sense of humour which strikes me as very Australian”.
This text utilises material from conversations between the author and Robert Brownhall and also from an essay published previously with Robert Brownhall’s exhibition of twenty years work at the Museum of Brisbane (2011). For more information, see the full essay text for Somewhere in the City: Urban Narratives by Robert Brownhall, 2011.
This is a fascinating time in history to be alive. I want to make paintings that show the way the world looks now and the way the people live in it. What is it about this age that is different to the past? The urban landscape is here now. The story of our civilisation is an astounding one. We have become the super builders of this earth, but where did our intelligence come from? I find the human mind inspirational. It can write a symphony, make a great painting, design a huge skyscraper or a jet that can fly people to the other side of the world in one day. It is amazing to think that there were no cities in this world only 2000 years ago and now they are everywhere. What will the world look like in another 2000 years? Is the future we are moving toward a good one? We should be clever enough to solve any problem.
Each painting I make is a balance of the man-made and the natural. Nature is the most beautiful thing in this world and should never be overlooked or forgotten. It appears in my paintings in the skies, the trees, the waves and water, and the sun’s lighting. Without these natural things my paintings would be bland. Every day I watch the changing weather and the sun’s effects and remember them for future paintings.
I have always found Edward Hopper’s realistic paintings inspirational. I like the way he could turn a simple urban scene into something so dramatic and special. He was a great story teller. I use his technique of painting from drawings because It makes an appealing natural realism that stands out from photography. I feel free to change the look of things with this method. When you look at my paintings you are looking at the world through my eyes, it is an interpretation of reality. I use my imagination to add figures, create the lighting and shadows, and the weather in the paintings. Sometimes I change a day drawing into a night scene or a sunlit drawing into rain. Imagination is the key to making great paintings I believe.
I like to take painting to new places. Things like panoramic city views from high rise buildings at night or what it might be like to be in the middle of a rain storm have not been explored before. Painting is an adventure.
I was born in Brisbane and it has been home to me ever since. It has a great river winding through it which is good for panoramas. It looks stunning at night and there are all sorts of interesting things going on in the city and the suburbs. I am a keen surfer and I have surfed the inspirational Gold and Sunshine Coasts since I was a child. Despite having a drowning experience when I was three years old I love to be in the ocean for hours at a time. It is a mysterious and beautiful place.
I do admire other cities and places around Australian as well. They are appearing more in my diary of paintings. I am keen to visit and paint some of the great cities around the world also, especially in the USA and Europe. I have seen many images of their inspirational urban landscapes in movies and on the Internet. The rest of the world seems closer in this age.
Robert Brownhall 2016