For Arthur Boyd
DURING THE SPRING of 1996 I was
artist-in-residence at both Riversdale and Bundanon on the
These two properties were kindly left
to the Australian Nation by the world-renowned artist Arthur Boyd. They form
part of a larger gift of land made up of four adjoining properties and
totalling more than one thousand hectares. The other properties are Beeweerie, also previously owned by Arthur Boyd and
Arthur Boyd now in his seventies
and his wife Yvonne spend their lives travelling by ship between
I have admired Arthur Boyd and his painting all my life, and I still cherish having had the opportunity to paint on these properties and to later meet with him
Most of my painting trips had been
to the outback; inland regions of
I had two weeks of virtual solitude
at the Riversdale property before moving across to Bundanon and Arthur's home and personal studio. He was in
The dry hill to the left of the river was wonderfully reflected in a variety of lights on the water's surface. A bright blue sky, contrasted with the deep greens and blacks from the hill, provided an opportunity to really explore the reflected surface. A brilliant afternoon subject, with the dense foliage of the hillside, the depth of the reflections and the stillness of the clear sky.
I was able to experience the bush and the subjects that inspired Arthur. The paintings I'd looked at over the years were all here. The evening painting of a house with one light on across the river- there it was, just as he had painted it. The cows could be seen grazing from here just as he had seen them when he made his painting.
I cherished every minute of my time
there. Friends wanted to take me out, show me their home, I declined, not
wanting to break the mood. A trip to the nearby
For my painting I had access to the original studio. Next to this was the new studio that had a one room self contained flat attached. Peter Day was artist-in residence using this space. Only recently married, he and his wife were spending their honeymoon in the studio. I suspect he didn't do a lot of painting work during his stay. We both respected each other's privacy, their time together and my desire for solitude. Occasionally Steve, the property manager would come and visit or attend to other maintenance errands, containing an escapee cow, fixing a pump or just to see that all was OK
My days were spent gazing and painting across the river, walking over the dry hills behind the property with my paints, or working in the studio.
These hills were familiar to me. Familiar through the paintings I had seen and loved of Arthur Boyd. The dry bush, crisp underfoot. The noise as you moved through the bush made it hard to creep up on the many lyrebirds inhabiting the hills and gullies. They heard you coming. The landscape was full of spotted gums, grey box and cycads. I particularly loved the cycads and put them into my new paintings. Their deep viridian greens, their mystery, such an ancient form of vegetation. The bright red seedpods that grew from their heart before spilling onto the earth to become new cycads. The discovery of a rock orchid in full bloom growing from the crack in a sandstone boulder. These images give the landscape its particular magic.
There was an electric stillness in this land. A heady smell of the bush eucalyptus, the sound of the birds, the Wonga pigeons' repetitive calls. The sea eagle that would fly along the river, a hawk hovering over a meal in the paddock, the call of the lyrebird, a gentle breeze and the attractive brown Brahman cross cattle with their long floppy ears - all memories of Riversdale.
The evenings were never spent
alone. Before dusk I would walk down to the river's edge to watch the
lightshow of the reflected twilight skies. Soon I would find myself
surrounded by wombats. They emerged earlier here than I was familiar with in
Another delight of the Riversdale house was the satin bowerbirds. These were new for me. The male bowerbird loves blue objects. He decorates his carefully constructed bower with them in the hope of enticing a female companion. He will sing and dance in the bower in a show of his prowess. He is very beautiful with feathers of the deepest iridescent prussian and ultramarine blue. He may be the only male among fifteen brown females. These cheeky birds would approach me under the verandah for any food thrown their way. If they had waited too long, they would tap on the window or come into the kitchen. I loved their shape, their long body, and the almost clumsy line of their back.
This was a wonderful place for an artist to become totally absorbed in their work. I was able to eat, live and paint twenty-four hours of the day. There were no distractions. The artist at home always seems to have to work around other day to day activities, and it is rare that you might have the opportunity to become so totally absorbed in painting. Unless a specific painting trip is organised, a stint in the desert or a remote cottage, there are always other interruptions!
I was able to work well in the bush, carrying my paints, as I am sure Arthur did up and down the hills, across the land and to the waters edge. The studio was wonderful also to work enabling me paint the larger works close to the environment with which I was working. I had only to look at my sketches or, in the case of the river, look out of the window to get the shapes of the land masses, and then paint in the colours I had observed during the early mornings and evenings as I sat by the shore.
During the last week of my
three-week residency I was relocated to Bundanon.
It was a rare opportunity for an artist to be able to live in the house at Bundanon and use the studio there. The Bundanon property is a fifteen minute drive west along
the Shoalhaven river - past
There is a different presence surrounding this property. It is quite beautiful with the majestic double-story stone house, also with polished floors and the grand piano. Today the house is a museum. It is as Arthur and Yvonne had left it - full of their paintings, collections of books, artefacts, sculptures and family pottery. Works by Merrick Boyd, Guy, Jamie and Penleigh Boyd. Bundanon, like Riversdale has a detached kitchen and bathroom wing. These buildings are of modest construction, timber with low ceilings. There are separate sleeping quarters that the staff would have once occupied. Bundanon is the grand property of the region on the river. Grand from all aspects. A huge Port Jackson Fig tree protects one side of the house, and an old Magnolia tree the other. The cottage garden and roses are another delight for sight and scent. Yvonne and Arthur were very fond of their garden and proud of their collection of old fashioned roses, roses that climbed the stone walls or stand proudly as sentries in the garden beds.
Arthur's studio is a short walk through the garden. The Two of Guy Boyd's and one of Lenore Boyd's sculptures grace the paths. A bowerbird has built his bower on the edge of the garden, outside Arthur's studio door amongst the planted cycads. He has a collection of blue biro lids, blue paint tops, blue pegs, pieces of paper and blue flowers in his bower.
Mervyn, my partner, had come to
share the last week of my residency with me at Bundanon.
Bundanon didn't have the same sense of tranquillity
for me as Riversdale. There was a lot of activity
on the property during the day. Evelyn and Steve occupied the office. Nikki,
the curator of the Bundanon collection, travelled
I felt privileged to be given Arthur's studio to work in and be given his palette and easel to use. The palette was a large sheet of plate glass on a bench, with a sheet of white paper placed underneath to show the colours mixed accurately. Around the edges were substantial lumps of paint that were mixed and ready for use. A skin had formed over them, which could be readily broken to expose fresh paint.
Again I was able to work
prolifically in this environment, savouring each day. There was a different
bush to explore. Across the paddock towards the hills lay the amphitheatre, a
structure that had been formed from a sandstone outcrop and from which grew
dozens of rock orchids. It is a magical place, surrounded by cycads in which
blue wrens nested and flittered through in their frenzied fashion. Further up
the hill the land turns back into dry bush with its variety of native flowers
such as the trigger plant and the spider orchid. The top of the hill was
another sandstone outcrop, forming the top of the escarpment which fell away
steeply to expose, way below, more green farmland
and beyond that again the winding journey of the
The river wound around the bottom paddocks from the house. Pulpit Rock, the outcrop that Arthur has painted many times in varying fashions and forms, lies on the other side of the river. A trip across the paddocks and a walk along the river will bring you to another spot easily recognisable from his paintings. - a group of four sandstone boulders that have fallen and rested on the shore across the other side. I painted several of these subjects in homage to Arthur - pulpit rock from the verandah of the home, the rocks and the river with flame trees. The flame trees are really the coral trees that grow in the Bundanon paddocks.
During the evenings, when the manager and other staff had gone, eeriness descended over the property. It was a different presence to Riversdale. Almost uneasiness as if in the past terrible things had befallen the land. There was the story of the drowning, and rumours of Aboriginal massacres in the area. The house itself was not easy to move around at night. A sense that someone was watching you. Although I was not alone and had Mervyn with me for company it was difficult to feel relaxed. We had the upstairs Sydney Nolan room to sleep in. This was the room he used to occupy with his wife Mary when staying at Bundanon. I had stayed totally isolated at Riversdale with no fear what so ever, and yet here was a presence I could not explain. I was glad I was not totally alone!
Two years later, both properties have undergone considerable change. The artist-in residence program has been moved from the Riversdale property to Bundanon, with the construction of several new live in studio spaces near the entrance of the property. These rooms will accommodate more artists at one time with shared kitchen facilities. The Riversdale property is having a large education centre constructed for live in-groups known as the Arthur and Yvonne Education Centre. More people will be sharing the river at any given time. The bush will remain the same, the sunrise and sunset, the wombats will continue to graze in the late afternoon and the Wonga pigeon will still call.
An exhibition of paintings from Riversdale and Bundanon 1996 - 1999