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robertnewmanTitle
Restorer’s Dream

Location
In storage

Place of origin
New South Wales, Australia

Media
Painting

Medium
Acrylic

Credit
Winner Calleen Award 1978

Accession number
CAL1978

Excerpt from The Calleen Collection by Peter Haynes (2019)

Like the first Calleen winner biographical details of 1978 winner Robert Newman are scarce. We do know that he continued to exhibit in the Calleen Prize from 1979 to 1985 and (apparently) lived in Cootamundra. 1978 saw less metropolitan entries in favour of a very high percentage of Cowra region artists. While oil paintings continued to predominate there was a slight infiltration of acrylics and other media. The judge was the painter Joshua Smith who had achieved unwelcome notoriety when William Dobell’s portrait of him was awarded the 1943 Archibald Prize for portraiture. The controversy around this is now legendary in Australian art history but the surrounding contemporary publicity was for Smith personally intrusive and hurtful. Despite this he went on to win the 1944 Archibald. Smith’s essentially realist style did not ever see him in the vanguard of Australia art but he remained a respected figure until his death in 1995.

Newman’s Restorer’s Dream is typical of much of Australian painting (although not necessarily that favoured by the cognoscenti or the “opinion-makers”). Its image of the deserted farm house with dilapidated fence and barn is characterised not so much by its stylistic and thematic familiarity as by the artist’s attention to the rendering of the light of the Australian bush. This is achieved particularly in the depiction of the sky and the distant hills that form the background of the composition. The ethereal presence of the sky suffuses the painting, its quiet tones providing pictorial depth while invoking the vastness of the Australian bush. The artist’s use of space is adept. The placement of the tree and its curving foliage at the left hand edge of the frontal plane indicates the space around and beyond the derelict farm buildings and in doing this highlights the contrasts between the organic forms of the tree, the hill and the sky with the carefully delineated house, fences and barn. Newman also uses tonal contrasts to achieve a gentle image of times past. Its simplicity, non-declarative stance and romanticising of an unstated bush narrative holds a quiet charm.