First post. Intro

This first post is a “sticky post” and stays at the top

To see my most recent post please scroll down to the bottom of this post. (or click the top one to the right here)

“Why bother?” I ask myself.

This website is for:

family and friends,

people who own my paintings,

people who still remember me,

people who don’t know me,

For self promotion (reluctantly)

To  tell my story

and explain my absence from the art scene for all those years.

To attempt to explain my paintings,

To update what I’m working on (using video?)

To air my beliefs…

My works

When required I have been calling my painting style “Ecological surrealism”

The notion that I have to have a “Style”, or that it has to have a name is simplistic and journalistic.

Every painting creates its own path as I work on it.

One of the motivations that drives me is avoiding repetition, cliches.

Boredom is my best helper. If I am getting bored its probably unoriginal, unimaginative; I have to stretch my ideas to the brink of absurdity, impossibility, otherwise I am squandering my precious time.

Mostly I begin with an idea; sometimes just a shape that will fill or grow inside the canvas. Sometimes (mostly) its the colours and tones of a place, which may exist in my mind, or perhaps out there. These colours usually find shapes for themselves, or even allow me to draw them. I like to have something happening; and lately I like it to be implausible, with prospects of being taken as an allegory or analogy. I would like to create a pseudomyth with the painting. Eventually an image begins to happen and sometimes it wants to be quite realistic. Sometimes the idea prefers to remain ambiguous and vague

Just lately I like to be not too serious.

I like to do fairly big paintings…anything smaller than 3′ by 4′ isn’t worth the effort. About 4′ by 5′ is spacious and about right, but anything up to about 6′ by 9′ is fine.

I spend several months on each painting. Its always hard work. I love to push my imagination, technical skills, endurance and perfectionism to extremes. Anything less would kill me with boredom.

My History; very briefly.

Born 1942 in Temora District hospital. I had a brother aged two, and nine years later along came a sister.

We lived on a farm. My father; the author E.O. Schlunke (Eric) preferred to be seen as a grazier and never overcropped his land. He was probably manic depressive. Had despotic mood swings.

My mother (Olga) came from a rural background, went to Presbyterian Ladies College and passionately loved/hated the farm. (She was bipolar too) She wrote poetry, and was published.

Classical music was always playing in the home: On 78s when I was little, and LPs when I was about 7 or 8.

Eric and Olga hated sport, popular music, commercial radio stations, vulgar people, drunks (!!?!!)

They loved Nature, scintillating conversation, the arts, elegance.

Eric wanted me to go to university, mostly because his father (who died before I was born, and seems to have been a religious zealot who abused the Bible to manipulate/terrorise his kids) wouldn’t let Eric go to Unversity. I started at University of New England and dropped out at the beginning of term 2 because of harassment from certain other students.

I went to stay with Arthur Murch and family, and stayed for about seven years.

Arthur took me on as a kind of apprentice. His wife Ria showed incredible forbearance and kindness.

Arthur got the contract to do the Mural in the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and I was one of his helpers (Along with Helga Lanzendorfer and Julian Halls) Helga and I were allowed to paint bits of it, but poor Julian was not.

I began exhibiting and in 1963 won the Rural Bank Art Prize at the Royal Easter Show. I was 21.

Naturally at that age I became convinced that I knew it all and there began subtly, my decline.

I want to write more about my past, my parents, my mistakes…

OK, here are some of my pickies, with comments…

“George Lambert and Arthur Murch and me”

This was my unhung entry to this years Archibald.

It began as a fantasy wherein George and Arthur are in Big Bush (where I live) working on projects. Arthur had a large block of sandstone, into which he was carving a thirty foot high jumping spider.

George was doing some kind of environmental sculpture; using bush materials.

As the painting proceeded Arthur’s spider became the fibreglass arthropod he had often wished he could do and I had him sandpapering its leg in preparation for gluing on hairs, of which he had a tangled bundle. George’s bark and petal sculpture acquired a praying mantis. As work proceeded Arthur’s spider legs and George’s petals insinuated themselves into the entire big bush background. Arthur’s plaster cast teaching aids (he was a passionate teacher) came along to keep us company.

My reason for doing the painting became clearer as work proceeded. At first it was just the fact that Arthur was an assistant to George, and I was an assistant to Arthur. (This first idea was suggested to me by my dear friend Jeanette.)

 Quite soon I began wondering how my life works compared to those of A and G. So I gave myself some insects too, but not very big, but probably live, not sculptures. Eventually I took the look of embarrassment off my face and tried to make it say: “Hey aren’t we having a jolly time being creative…”

“…And The Rainforest Will Return to the Desert…”

This was a finalist in the Essential Energy Art prize, called “Countryscapes” and now terminated.

I wanted to do another painting about the Chewings Range. Maybe I drove past them on the way to Hermansburg Mission way back in 1962. I didn’t stop for any drawings or photos because the person I was traveling with was having a mini nervous breakdown. I used the grey dry corrugated landforms with violet shadows in a previous painting, “Western Macs circa 2084”.

But this time it had to be more than just a view.

(I feel views are dreary and unjustifiable these days for me. Boring too. A good folio of photos or a video pan, or best still, visiting the place and looking at it is the best thing you can do with a view.)

So I put something implausible in the foreground; a clump of rainforest trees, and more rainforest beginning to grow over the corrugated hills. Some of the bluegreyviolet hills were growing a green canopy. The idea excited me, but upon reflection I realised that most people would not understand.

The painting needed some kind of explanation, and that had to go into the title, like a caption. This was one time when I really wanted the painting to be readily understood. Not enigmatic this time.

I could not call it Chewings Range, nor even Western Macs, nor even Western Macdonnell Ranges because virtually nobody knows where they are, and that they are very dry and could not support rainforest.

I don’t often make concessions for people’s ignorance, but I had to change the wording to “Desert”, and then it sounded biblical, (Revelations) so I prefixed the “…And” and set it in the future.

I enjoyed creating a kind of Mosque dome with bright lights in the big fig tree; and a storm coming across the rainforest. Very Romantic. It was a very difficult painting, but not for a minute unenjoyable. I love extremely hard work.

“An Eiffel Tower in Big Bush”

Juxtaposing preposterous ideas.
Its one of the ingredients of surrealism.
The ideas have to be very personal for me to generate any enthusiasm. We had recently been to Paris. Big Bush is where I live.
The tower seemed to fit best upside down. Most of the time on this painting was intuitive frigging around. Not much intellect in this one. It was fun and not terribly difficult. I don’t care if people can see the Eiffel tower or not. It looks intriguing, and thats all I wanted.

“Sculpture Garden”

Near Port Macquarie is a little patch of rainforest that runs down to the beach, called Sea Acres. There are many palm trees that have shed their fronds and they get caught up in the trees below, looking like sculptures. And there you have it. Once I had the concept that some or all of what I am depicting here is sculptures placed in a garden setting the thing galloped away on a white stallion… Shortly the earth and sky became part of the sculpture. By then I was not depicting an imaginary scene, but dragging rough ideas from my frenetic brain. I want to do more of these. I love to gallop away on the white stallion of extremes.

Western Macs

When I was in my early twenties I drove past the Western Macdonnell Ranges (“Western Macs”- west of Alice Springs) on my way to Hermannsburg Mission. I gave a few art classes there and returned to Sydney. I was intending to spend a few days on the return trip, doing drawings and paintings of the ranges near the road, but the bloke I was traveling with was in a great hurry to get back to Sydney… something to do with the flies as I remember, so I thought; never mind, I would come back later…

Back in those days I was quite happy to “Do a painting of….” That is to say, show what a certain view looks like. The trick lay in the way I painted it.

Now in my mid seventies I need to do more with a painting. For a start the view need not exist; neither geographically, nor in memory. Nor need it be a view; not “out there” anyway.

But when I finally got back to the Western Macs a few months ago I found the scenery to be quite astounding enough for “doing a painting of…” At first anyway.

Actually the first task is to learn how to draw and paint hills and rocks. To some extent these early ones are exercises; and I’m wondering what to do with horizons, which are so insistent in the desert.

Maybe few tweaks…I cannot control my urge to tweak, and if a megafauna seems to become visible; well, I am not one to stand in its way…but the first four paintings I have done are more or less my reactions to the geology, botany and geometry of these strange protruberances from the desert plains. No need at this stage to insinuate any further issues. Unless…


Wattle and Corrugations

October in the Western Macs after a damp winter and wildflowers blooming.

A certain species of wattle played its yellow note in a minor chord of other yellows…ochres, oranges, siennas, pale olives.

While the left hand was playing umbers, violets, dark olives…

And those corrugations going on for miles and miles reverberating through the whole countryside.

All of this dotted with spinifex clumps and blooming bushes. Not of this planet.


Mt Sonder Perentie

Geology. The layers of sediment from the bottom of a sea millions of years ago; compressed into rocks and pushed up …

Drawing hills and rocks. How to make the top look like I’m looking up, and the bottom looking down. How to make the horizon infinite, definite and illusory (all of which it is). How to give the hills and rocks volume and weight; and their relentless, slow dynamics, and the underlying anatomy of the geological skeleton and muscles which need to express feelings and emotions and memories: Thinking of Michelangelo.

How to manipulate paint to create the illusion of rocky texture. How to make rocks look amazing, or at least undreary.

Can one make a painting that recreates the feeling of standing out in the desert beholding this range of hills?, or does one insinuate more (or less) into it?

So I had a lot of stuff on my mind with this job.

And the gigantic goanna that seems to be sunning itself…


Megafauna Shower

Geology…Stratas flipped on edge, eroding unevenly. Waves of rock walls to the horizon in both directions. And billions (not millions) of spinifex tussocks. I found myself (as always) thinking about the landscape as it was in prehuman times.


Wattle and Blue Daubs

I love the dots of mulga and other shrubs on distant hillsides, They are not haphazard. They actually draw the volume of the hill.

Certain stratas on the hill slopes are composed of rocks that make soils that are more compatible to stands of mulga, and at a distance they take on a range of blues, violets…in waves.

Prehuman megafauna appear spontaneously in these landscapes.

Winter Solstice 2016

Je n’aime pas La Chasse” Self portrait as old Chardin

old chardin

Did Chardin really feel sorry for the dead creatures he brought into his studio to paint in his still lifes? (as certain Art writers suggest)

Or were they just his dinner that night (he didn’t have a fridge).

I feel disturbed that many European countries still allow people to go out and shoot wild creatures.

This cannot be civilised. Yet they even call it their ‘culture’!

How many other attrocities and ludicrousities can we think of that are perpetuated in the name of culture?

If I invited Chardin to Big Bush would he go out and shoot creatures?

I took a pastel Chardin did of himself in his old age and put my eye, and my hand into it.

And posed a few questions.

No Galahs, Wood ducks, Frogmouths or Echidnas suffered in the making of

this painting.

Vincent Van Gogh and Antoni Gaudi re-doing Big Bush


One of those paintings that needs a caption to put the viewer on the right page, but having provided that, need I say more?

Nocturne; Night Birds.

nocturne small

Maybe this one began with a book I got about Nightjars, Potoos, Frogmouths and Owlet- Nightjars. Their plumage has such exquisite camo patterns, that my passion for butterfly wing patterns momentarily took second place .

Also Mark Rothko. I became aware of his work when I was in my thirties. It was after I left Sydney, which was then embroiled in “The Field” art… Exciting enough stuff: clever things being done with masking tape and sprayguns: “Hard Edge”

Only to get a magazine (Art International) with a Rothko issue.

This bloke was using blocks of colour with effervescing edges to evoke emotions that I’d never had before. His paintings bypass the intellect and connect with the soul.

Over the years I have begun a few paintings with the intention of presenting full frontal slabs of colour; but inevitably the boundaries get vioated as I (have to) sneak in recognisable things.

Same with this one.

Nonetheless there are pale moonlight colours along the top; warm dry grassy tones along the bottom; and in the middle a dark shadowy “whoosh” going from right to left. Then I mingled nocturnal feathers with Big Bush bark and foliage.

Four recent jobs

Soutine’s Chapel on the Pinnacle


A few years ago I visited for the first time, the new Musee d’Orsay.

Lots of nice enough things but what knocked me sideways was the room full of Soutines.

There was a refreshing irreverence in his stuff. Knocking houses way out of skew and tumbling them down hillsides; people looking insecure despite their demeanour of self importance, being harassed by red scarfs, towels, cloths. Still lifes of dangerous and scarcely ponderable objects, notably his Skate. Somehow he does this with wit, gentle humour, conviction and sincerity. He seems to be such a nice fun bloke.

Most artwriters perpetuate myths. In Soutine’s case its about his anxiety. Maybe he had the same anxiety that most of us artists have, but the tremors in his paintings are not from his supposed anxiety.

They speak of his vivid perception of the forces of nature. He had to make them visible by taking his subject and giving it a good kick and shake. The cold drizzly wind of so many of his landscapes is the omnipotent mother nature who not only makes everything in the universe function, but observes humans and may indeed punish bad behaviour. Like a certain character in a certain old testament.

Soutine does all this with cheeky good humour.

So I invited him to do something in a chapel on the pinnacle.

Not surprisingly he re-did his skate. The skate has been painted before, by Chardin, Ensor, so its a bit of a challenge to have a go at a skate. My grandchildren Issa and Mariama were happy to pose (briefly) as the two children who Soutine often inserted into his tremulous, shuddering landscapes.

Ploughing the Mallee

ploughing the mallee

I don’t often let my anger get into paintings. I try to be light-hearted about the destruction of so many beautiful things and maybe before too long now; the planet itself, (not to mention the human race) by capitalism and religion.

I’m sure mother nature is pondering some checks and balances, and yes, punishment, for the human race, and before too long she will show her hand; and maybe save some of the planet, and perhaps even a few thousand humans will be spared to enjoy the remaining beauty (if she can find that many non-capitalist, non-religious humans).

So I can be light-hearted.

I got this idea out near Hillston. Out there, there are meagre remnants of the mallee vegetation that once covered the whole area; just along the roadsides, a few metres wide. As we drove along, there was this farmer in his enormous air conditioned tractor pulling a very wide plough. It was dry and windy and he was creating an enormous cloud of dust.

It rose into the air on upward thermals and reminded me of something… ah yes,

The billowing smoke and dust when the twin towers collapsed.

All this was partly visible through the screen of the skerrick of roadside mallee.

Now there’s a painting.

Hillston Wattle

hillston wattle

On another trip out Hillston way on a grey day, a tiny hole opened in the clouds above admitting a beam of sunlight. It caught a wattle bush in full bloom. The rest of the landscape was grey dismal mallee remnant, backed by grey degraded manmade “grassland” to the horizon.

I found myself thinking of civilizations that had gone horribly wrong, like Easter Island…

Vermeer Returning Regent Honey-eaters into Big Bush


Back as far as I can remember there were art books which my mother, and maybe my father too, leafed through, showing me great paintings. Also framed reproductions on the walls at “Rosenthal”

One such was Vermeer’s Girl in a Red Hat. There was also the Servant Girl Pouring Milk; and several other girls, all inscrutable and fascinating to a very little boy. And big men like shearers in funny big hats, long coiffured hair and boots; chatting up the girls. And draughtboard floors.

Much later, when I was about 20, Arthur Murch brought home a Phaidon book on Vermeer. Excellent large reproductions in full colour. The book caught me at the precise moment when I was looking for guidance about composing with abstract areas of colour. Vermeer could make any colour sing by juxtaposition. I suddenly realised that a large part of creating/enjoying art was this.

Vermeer used household objects to create patches of colour where he wanted them; and when he wanted to have a fling he could put almost any strong colour and pattern he cared to concoct, and contrive them as tapestries and rugs that were strewn about…

Thereafter Vermeer was often invoked when I pondered objects in my paintings.

Endangered species: I am always looking and listening for Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters in Big Bush. They used to be here, but now only the odd Swifty; no more Regents. There is a program of breeding Regent honeyeaters in captivity and releasing them back into their former habitats. So I invited Vermeer to come to Big Bush and paint Regent Honeyeaters; breathe life into them and release them. He brought some of his girls.

Painting his girls into Big Bush was an eye opener. Seeing how he simplified his tonal areas yet kept absolute control of the modelling. My copies are only awe-stricken notes.

The top righthand corner is full of Big Bush shapes done in Delftware; and Vermeer’s household objects, including a scarcely disguised abstract tapestry; and the Lacemaker’s threads gone crazy, are strewn about Big Bush.

May 2015 recent paintings.

Selphi as St Jerome.


I was always fascinated by Leonardo’s anatomical drawings, especially of the neck and shoulder region.

I was aware of his unfinished St Jerome, which was obviously drawn by him but the paint probably added or retouched by an apprentice, or some such subsequent gaucherie.

Recently I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror with a patch of light catching the neck and shoulder anatomy…rather like the Leonardo St Jerome and I hastened to capture it on my mobile.

And so began this painting.

The multicoloured light must have come from fresh memories of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia on a sunny morning.

I found it more interesting to construe and concoct the sub-cutaneous structure as architectural or engineering rather than actual human sinews and muscles…and why did I spell it Selphi? Well works of art should be more highbrow than snapshots…my mother told me.


Courtesans smaller

(The original is less saturated, more like this):

courtesans orig


Its always exciting to have visitors to Big Bush. Sometimes I do a painting with real or imaginary people or objects doing something in Big Bush.

The juxtapostion is just the beginning.

Something always begins to flow or brew, over which I willingly lose control.

Its intriguing how many points of contact happen between seemingly random juxtapositions. Thats like life isn’t it?.

OK, so I was reading a couple of books about ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints after having bought a couple of prints from Julian. Better educate myself a bit.

These delightful young ladies with their discreet, mysterious, genteel vocations (preoccupations? pastimes?) accompanied by attendants and devotees, moving about their floating world with such inscrutable buoyancy… did such creatures really exist? Were they spirits? Did they inhabit bodies?What on earth would it be like to have a few in Big Bush, to talk to and entertain? Would they find something interesting to play with?

Big Bush Wet Winter.

Winter rain

Like the name says, I was trying to recall walking slowly around in Big Bush during steady winter rain.

All objects covered with a film of water which is reflecting the available light from the clouds; a warm and cool grey. And drips hanging off everything, and drops in the air…I dunno, it looks pretty wet to me…

Bhutanitis Impact.

Bhutan rotated

In pursuance of my lifelong preoccupation with butterflies I have accumulated many books and websites on the subject.

Recently I became fascinated with a genus of “swallowtail” butterflies called Bhutanitis. They are to be found (if one is very lucky and well guided,) in Bhutan to Burma, at moderate to high elevations. So I, um, impacted one (or two?) into Big Bush.

(In my imagination that is. I don’t want visits from Customs and Quarantine… nor from Immigration regarding the Ladies from Japan.)

September 2014


Unsorted Memories.

Another “Pinnacle” painting.

Many of my precious childhood memories involve the Pinnacle.

This time I encouraged some recent travel experiences, (another visit to the Alhambra), to mingle with the hilltop memories: Certain butterflies that could be found near the top of the pinnacle, the caves, the upward-looking hilltop ambience, kurrajong trees; (larval foodplant for the Tailed Emperor butterfly)…the excitement of childhood obsessions with butterflies which I still enjoy; and along the ridge; the windows from a high chamber in the Alhambra.

The conglomerate rocks that form the Pinnacle remind me of the ceiling decorations from the Alhambra, but upside down; hanging upwards from the lichened rocks.

Pillars and arches here and there; memories still fresh of Gaudi, and Aunty Reta’s sculptures not forgotten.

Ria smaller

Here is my Portrait of Ria Murch.

Widow of Arthur Murch to whom I was a sort of apprentice many years ago.

We had a half day sitting last year when she was 95 years old. She was alert and a bit annoyed   because she had written a letter to the Manly Daily and had discovered that it had not been printed.

Frustration and outrage were in the background of her demeanour; but her charming cheeky confrontation games, so familiar to me, soon resumed. She was able to recall events from my time in that household that I had forgotten. She also talked about times long before I came on the scene.

I did some drawings and took about 100 photos.

During that half day Ria mentioned a few times that she was in pain; life was very difficult and she wouldn’t really mind being dead.

This was not depression talk; she was defiant and very tuned in to life; highly aware of injustice greed and cruelty that makes up a large part of humans-on-planet-earth: Yet fully embracing the paradox of the loveliness of people and nature.

So this is what went into the portrait.

There was an unfinished painting of Arthurs on the wall depicting Gosse’s bluff which Arthur was working on last time I saw him; a few years before his death.

(When he was young he visited this meteor impact crater and did several studies of it; which he redid many times in his long life of painting.) He was a bit more obscure and more into metaphor than ever before, that last time I saw him, and pointed out that he wanted to get into a hot air balloon and ascend 1000 feet for a better view.

I remembered this and found several such views on Google images which seemed to match Arthurs wish and I did the 1000-feet-up view of Gosse’s Bluff behind Ria.

Is she merging into the crater, or is she rising out of it?

Ria died earlier this year.

Archibald and Wynne Comps.

Is it possible to say anything intelligent, objective, unbiased?


So I will say nothing, except that I entered the two above paintings and both were rejected.

P and A smaller

Here is a portrait of Patrick and Annie Thorne. Both friends from my childhood, and still great friends.

Schlunke_David_Where_God_Lives 3.jpg

Here is another painting I’ve just finished tentatively entitled Pinnacle Lepidopterous

It is 92 x 122 cm which is 3 feet by 4 feet; (perhaps the most common size used by Turner)

I have done a lot of this painting with small brushes; very fine detail. The Lepidopterous becomes more visible with closer inspection and so I am adding here a few details. Look for fragments of butterflies; or rather butterfly-like patterns.

I spend a lot of my time gazing in wonder at the patterns on butterfly wings. As if there is some code; some magic cypher that reveals the ultimate secret to exquisite design.

I hope that if I indulge in this scrutiny diligently enough I will be able to generate such patterns and designs spontaneously in my paintings.

Is there some important message from butterflies for humans? Probably not; but funny how I seem to assume that there should be; and for the time being will continue searching.

These details below are about life size: like looking at the painting from about half a metre away.

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Quandong Time Again


I suppose most paintings have some story or other behind them but mostly the painting is happy to stand alone without any narrative.

But sometimes the raison d’etre and history is an important part of the creative process; and it seems to me that the beholder or owner of the painting may be enriched know how it came to be.

Quandong Time Again smaller

Thus it is with Quandong Time Again.

Every November the quandong trees in Big Bush (where I live) bedeck themselves with bright red fruits. The redness is the edible flesh. Inside is a woody nut. Inside the nut is a kernel (the actual seed) It too is edible.

The outer flesh is meagre, neither sweet nor savoury, and only mildly attractive. Most people can manage to eat at least one; rarely two, though I believe they are very attractive to bush tucker enthusiasts. Like cranberries; they can be made more palatable with sugar.

The kernel is a bit of a surprise. Strongly tastes of oil of wintergreen, and I imagine it is far more nutritious than the outer layer.

We have found several small rocks in Big Bush with a pit on one side the right size to hold a quandong nut while it is cracked with another stone. So it seems our aboriginal previous-tenants did not waste the best bit.

Regarding the quandong tree. It is a root parasite. It grows in the bush harmoniously and innocently but underground it presents us with a moral problem as do all creatures which can be defined as “parasitic”.

But it gets more complex. Its leaves are eaten by caterpillars, and these caterpillars then pupate and emerge a few weeks later as adults: A beautiful butterfly!

This same butterfly may also lay its eggs upon another parasite; mistletoe, and its caterpillars happily gorge themselves on their leaves.

Angels of vengeance in the moral crusade against “parasites”.

(In a further twist in this story of perverted parasites; there is a species of mistletoe that parasitizes the Quandong tree.)

(And incidentally: can all creatures that take their nutrition at the expense of other living things without actually killing them, be called parasites? If not, why not?)

The painting began with an adult butterfly, which is still there on the left. Delias aganippe, Wood White or Spotted Jezebel.

When I was in my early teens I became a butterfly enthusiast and I raised some Wood White butterflies from eggs/ caterpillars.

I remember being a bit concerned/fascinated to see that the red spots on black of the underside of the hindwing looked as if they had gone out of register in the printing process. There is a little crescent of white showing along the top edge of the red. I felt that the red should have covered all the white.

I remembered this, and mused further that the red spots are very much like the quandongs of their larval foodplant.

Indeed if you pick a quandong and hold it up towards but slightly under the sun, you get a gleam along the top edge a bit like the white halo around the red spot on the butterfly’s wing.

So I was playing with this caprice in the painting; waltzing the red spots from the butterflies’ wings with the dangling quandongs amongst the pendulous yellow green leaves of the quandong tree…

Also I was remembering wandering through the bush as a young boy getting fresh quandong leaves to feed my dozen or so Wood White caterpillars; remembering the incredibly dry crackling heat haze of midsummer in the bush, re-living the vivid and intense rapture of discovering and beholding butterflies (and frogs, and geckos too, for that matter) that some children (before television) had, which adults can only try to preserve or revive.

Incidentally; I began the painting before I went to Spain (including Barcelona) for a few weeks; When I returned and finished the painting my head was swimming with Gaudi; who was inspired by forms found in nature. I wonder if it shows in the painting.


Shipton’s Flat

Just south of Cooktown; near Mt Finnigan and not far from Cedar Bay. A patch of rich basalt soil with very biodiverse flora/fauna. A mosaic of Tropical Rainforest and wet sclerophyll. A mecca for naturalists, especially birdos.

The soil and climate are so fecund that new leaves on some rainforest trees and shrubs have a glistening ruby-burgundy hue.

We did two trips to Shipton’s Flat, 17 years apart.

First time it was Lyn and me, to make our film about tropical rainforest. (about which there will be more, here, some day)

Second time was a revisit with our small kids.

Both trips yielded lots of paintings.

Herewith a selection from the last trip.

Black Butcherbird 2 fixed

Black Butcherbird

A raucous bird that can always be seen and heard around Parrot Creek, which winds around Shiptons Flat. I love the deep olives and indigos in the water of Parrot Creek. They make me gasp.

Pied Flycatcher fixed

Pied Monarch

A small flycatcher with an erect-able ruff

Boatbills fixed


Another flycatcher. This one with black, white and yellow plumage, and a delicious twittery trill.

SF moment fixed

Shipton’s Flat Moment

Jubilee ck reach fixed

Jubilee Creek Reach

Hey, these are all pretty, um,  realistic!

I think I believed back then,(the early’90s) that all I needed to do was paint it as best I could, just as it was, and um, hope it would reach out and perform magic?

Little Forks Birdwing

Little Forks Birdwing

Finnigan Cloud Forest 2 fixed

Finnigan Cloud Forest 2

Mt Finnigan sticks up out of the lowland rainforest and has cloud forest at its peak, complete with its almost permanent cloud, misting and dripping on the moss covered granite boulders, little palms, epiphytes, wind-clipped bonsai-like trees.

Finnigan blows

Finnigan Blows

Topknots perch fixed

Topknots Perch

One of those “I saw this!” paintings. A flock of topknot pigeons diving from way up on Finnigan and swooping in to perch with an alarming “Whoooosh”

Turtles all the way down

This one painted itself.

When the directions come from the intuitive (not the intellect) I say the painting painted itself.

If I suffered from grandiosity as some artists do, I would say God directed my hand.

It began as a painting of Minyon Falls near Lismore, (see pastel study)

Minyon Falls smaller

However, the raw rock patches from where large chunks of cliff face have recently fallen enticed me to create chapels.

A tower of something began to insinuate itself in the centre.

I recalled the (apocryphal?) story of the young Bertrand Russell : how he had been giving a talk about the universe, and a little lady stood up and said its all very interesting, but he should realise that the universe is carried on the back of and elephant, which is on the back of a turtle…

“Interesting indeed,” remarked Bertrand, “ and what is under the turtle?”

“Another turtle” she replied.

“Aha! And under that turtle?” quizzed Bertrand,

“Oh you clever young man!” she exclaimed, “Its turtles all the way down!”

and that settled the matter of the central tower.

The issue of the origin and structure of the universe according to various mytho/religio/superstitions became the theme. The chapels became temples to different deities, and the turtles version, which seems more plausible to me than the others, extends downwards to the centre of the universe, if not beyond.

On the left is Mother Natures version, and her deity; the Great Elephant Parrot came and perched on a marble cloud ( supplied by Bernini)


My (rejected) entries in this years Archibald and Wynne competitions

I haven’t got my paintings back yet to check that they got there and were opened and looked at (they usually put a sticker or some mark on the back) but I have to assume that they were seen by the trustees, or someone with the authority to reject.

Until I go and see the exhibition I cannot think of anything to say; (and usually after seeing them I still cannot think of anything to say.)

Here they are anyway:

Eric and Olgas dream smaller

Self Portrait with Eric and Olga and their Dream”

Its about “Rosenthal” where I lived my first seventeen years and returned many times until the place was finally sold and became derelict.

Eric and Olga, my parents, were pretty idealistic in their early years of marriage. In this painting they are about the ages that my kids now are. They were beautiful, talented, adventurous people.

“Rosenthal” was an idyllic spot, far from roads and neighbours; surrounded by bush covered hills.

A Willow and Yellow Box lined creek and large dam close by and the exquisite “Pinnacle” just across the creek rises above the plain.

As well as farming and grazing, with methods that today are called “organic” Eric wrote short stories and novels; Olga wrote poetry, sang Leider around the house, made a large garden and loved to entertain.

They made “Rosenthal”into a social hub…there was a tennis court across the creek where they had parties; the gentlemen carrying the ladies across the creek if it was wet. There were also parties on the slopes of the Pinnacle with excursions to the caves and the trig station where the views were breathtaking. They were the envy of all their friends; truly in love and fulfilling their dreams of being creative and making Rosenthal into an Arcadian dream.

It lasted about twenty years but Eric began suffering from bipolar mood disorder and high blood pressure, and Olga was sucked under by alcohol. The property began losing money; Eric was afraid he was losing his mind and suicided in 1960 aged 54. Olga died of cirrhosis of the liver about ten years later aged 59.

So in my painting Eric and Olga are statues on the “Pinnacle”made from the pinnacle conglomerate stone, overlooking Rosenthal as it was back in the thirties and forties. Thats me bottom left, pondering the situation.

Here is another photo of my Wynne entry:

Aunty Retas sculptures smaller


Aunty Reta’s Sculptures on the Pinnacle” about which there is a previous post herebelow


Aunty Reta’s Sculptures on the Pinnacle

29th April 2012

Who’s painting this stuff?

With this current painting I’m not sure if its a horse or angel of inspiration that’s doing the painting.

I cannot remember actually thinking up the idea. One minute it was not in my head; the next minute it was there, pretty well developed.

Aunty Reta’s sculptures on the Pinnacle.

I felt there were great prospects for putting a Trogon and a Pangolin amongst the sculptures. I made up a canvas and primed it in a fever of excitement and began from all sides with the canvas lying flat on tables.

Every time I go up to my studio I am not sure what I will do next, but confident that I will know without any doubts once I get started. So it has been up to now.

Aunty Reta was a maiden Aunt, now long dead.

Very intelligent, cheeky, perceptive, self-educated, caring and with unexpressed creativity.

She was the one who looked after the aging and unwell in the family all her life.

The actual idea of her sculptures being on the Pinnacle was in a very early short story by Julian Halls.

In real life she never did any sculptures other than some quite strange unique ceramic forms (that made her giggle) in a pottery class I held long ago.

The Pinnacle is a hill that rises out of the plains very close to where I lived my first 17 years. I could climb to the top in about 40 minutes and I spent a lot of time up there. It was, and still is, a very special magic place for me.

Its cooler up there and when the air is clear the views are of maybe a hundred kilometres. Its hewn and conglomerated out of round riverstones. Bespangled with mosses and lichens; ferns growing in the cracks. There are some caves. There are many species of flora not in other bush around here.

In the warmer months there are several species of butterfly found only there.

Right at the top there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of butterflies hilltopping. (Flying above the treetops in a kind of ritualistic rapture).

Here are five photos of this painting as it developed.

In the first one its only a few days old. Very exciting. It could go anywhere from here; but I still have some idea and control.

In number two I was beginning to try out the Trogon (a South American bird) and the Pangolin. Not sure though, how to orient the pangolin, and was there a baby on her back? But the lumpy conglomerate boulders that the pinnacle is made out of work nicely as the pangolin scales.

A sunrise began to peep over the ridge and send rays clattering down the slopes of the pinnacle (down which I have to confess I loved rolling rocks in my childhood)

And the curious chapel begins to assert itself just left of centre. It had begun from the start as an accident, and I tried feebly to eliminate it, but not to be. Note the Boyd’s rainforest dragon on the pillar to the left of the chapel. I did that deliberately!

By number three the Trogon’s eye seems to have decided it is an empty socket, but further down a real eye opens.. Ah yes, an eye for the Pangolin has arrived.

And by sheer miracle a drop of paint flicked off my lovely Kolinsky liner and landed in the chapel. I quickly wiped it away, but it left a ghost of itself;

And behold! Its Aunty Reta herself, in her chapel.

Here is a close up

A Gaudiesque Guell Parc wall begins its construction along the ridge; branching into what could be a chameleon.

In number four a staircase cleaves itself up the Pangolin’s back, to allow Aunty Reta easy access to her chapel. I’m now asserting myself and trying to strengthen here and edit out there to make the painting more readable.

October 2012. Here is the final version.

Its now finished.

This is probably the only time I will publish unfinished works.

Certainly there are aspects of the earlier stages that I like quite a bit; though I am most pleased with the final and glad that I ran with it all the way.

However there are people out there; especially those who have gone to Art School, (Now UNIVERSITY) who would have been brainwashed into believing that art should be rough and unfinished and there should be no evidence of industry or effort or refinement. And these people will point to early stages and declare with solemn authority that it was better in its early stages.

Something like this happens in my studio. Certain people look at unfinished works and exclaim: “Don’t touch it!” and move on insouciantly.

Such people are immune to debate or reason.

Which lures me on to wonder if most people’s idea of what art is (including, nay, especially artists) is no more than brainwashing.

Which lures me further to speculate if the same applies to other fields of learning.

Economics for example?

And then religion?

Simultaneously I was working on this one: Legend: The Shiptons Flat Butterflies.

One of my fabricated legends.