Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vale John, the boy next door

from w
Isa, this week I was reading an art catalogue and discovered that John Robinson, once the boy next door, had died recently. He became a fine artist, but when the Robinsons lived next door to us in Swan Hill, he was one of the four kids next door who played tennis with us. They were such a nice family, their Dad an Inspector of School. My condolences to the family, especially his Mum Jean, sisters Margaret and Jenny, and Peter. I found this eulogy in the Age.
Artist mindful of perceptions
May 8, 2009
4-11-1940 — 2-3-2009

JOHN Robinson's distinguished career began early. The December 1958 issue of Melbourne High School's magazine, Unicorn, with the cover designed by Max Gillies, contained numerous references to J. H. Robinson as elected school captain, house captain, prefect, president of the students' representative council, form vice-captain, tennis team captain and footballer.

His photograph appears at least eight times, but his ambition was listed as "still secret". Few would have guessed that he was destined to become an artist.

Robinson, who has died of cancer in Bendigo Hospital, aged 68, began studies at Caulfield Technical School in 1959. That lead to a diploma of fine art at RMIT in 1962. He studied printmaking with master wood-engraver Tate Adams and later became a member of a group of friends including the artists Les Kossatz, George Baldessin and Jan Senbergs and novelist Peter Mathers.

From the late 1960s to the '80s, Robinson was involved in establishing a number of pioneering printmaking initiatives with Baldessin and Adams' Crossley Press in the city's Winfield Building, with Kossatz and Neil Leveson at the Druckma Press in West Melbourne, and his own Lithus Press in Northcote.

He was responsible for teaching Neil Leveson the art of lithography, and the filmmaker went on to head the Australian Print Workshop in Fitzroy.

Robinson was also one of a group of artists, including Kossatz and Senbergs, who in the 1970s bought a number of country churches — with Robinson eventually establishing his studio in a historic mill in the Bendigo-Maryborough district.

Born in Melbourne, Robinson married Evi Maria Boelckey in 1966, and she also became a respected figure in the art world. Also that year he held his first solo exhibition of paintings and woodcuts at Melbourne's historic Argus Gallery, a leading venue at the time. Over the next 42 years, he went on to present 23 evenly spaced solo exhibitions of prints and paintings at numerous important galleries throughout Australia.

Represented by Marianne Bailleau's influential Realities Gallery in Toorak, he had no fewer than seven brilliant solo exhibitions in that popular space. His final exhibition, titled Essential Referencing, opened posthumously at the Bendigo Art Gallery on April 18 this year.

From 1962 to 2007, he took part in about 62 important group exhibitions that included shows at the Reeds' Museum of Modern Art (1962), Blake Prize (1966), Corio 5 Star Whiskey Prize, Geelong Art Gallery (1966, 1973), the McCaughey Prize, National Gallery of Victoria (1975, 1979, 1983), the Pederson Prize, Queensland Art Gallery (1980), the Adelaide Festival of the Arts (1986) and, throughout the 1990s, numerous exhibitions mounted by La Trobe University, Bendigo, where he also taught printmaking in the art school.

Over the years Robinson's work travelled internationally with group exhibitions of Australian prints shown in Tokyo (1976), San Francisco (1977), Oxford , Bayreuth and Bangkok (1982-83), Los Angeles (1988) and Seoul (2002).

He is represented in the collection of most Australian regional and state galleries as well as the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Renowned as both painter and printmaker of an abstract persuasion, he was a fine colourist and superb technician; the key to his art was a keen sensitivity to visual reality. He once said that we need to "foster a discriminating attitude to our perception of the world" and to experience the power and force of the visual field by assembling reminders that linger in the highly evocative surfaces of paintings and prints.

In his painting, Garden (1979), garden paths, steps, archways, trellises, hoses, watersprays and raked garden beds are all recorded in gently abstracted coloured strokes and patches that carry the atmosphere of remembered gardens in such a way that viewers can almost sniff the mowed lawn and heady scent of flowers.

Robinson's absolute specialty was the difficult art of colour lithography, where successful working in crayon on touche on a metal plate or stone is dependent on the distinctively personal "touch" of the artist. With his fine sensitivity to atmosphere, Robinson's paintings and prints share an undisguised link. Each is pervaded by his discriminating attitude to the processes of perception.

Jim Taylor, an artist with whom Robinson shared a rented studio in Prahran in the early 1960s, observes that at the end of his life his friend regarded the role of the artist to be that of cipher, one who taps into cosmic energy and attempts to reveal something of its force. Indeed, quoting Camus, Robinson once said: "How can I deny this reality, when I feel its power and its force?" His most recent drawings, on show at Bendigo Art Gallery, clearly transmit the energy Robinson extracted from his visual field.

He is survived by his wife, Evi, daughter Tanya, son Andrew, daughter-in-law Naomi, grandchildren Jake and Ruby, his mother Jean, and his siblings Margaret, Jennifer and Peter.


Jenny Zimmer is an art publisher



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