"Wattle Rose and Thistle" Exhibition - Wagner Art Gallery Sydney
13th - 31st March 2010

Exhibition Invitation :

David van Nunen, AWI President, and David Paskett, President of the Royal Watercolour Society, during their meeting at The Bankside Gallery, London, on 22nd April 2009, to discuss collaboration with the AWI. As a result of this meeting, it was agreed that four members of the RWS as well as four from the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour will, for the first time, be our guest artists in a forthcoming AWI Exhibition.

John Doyle, writer and broadcaster (aka Rampagin’ Roy Slaven), opening the
Wattle, Rose & Thistle exhibition at Wagner Gallery on Tuesday, 16 March 2010.
The text of John's address is given at the bottom of this page.

The packed crowd listens to John Doyle's speech.

Nadine Wagner, Wagner Gallery Director, AWI Secretary, Ingrid Van Dyk, John Doyle and AWI President, David van Nunen

AWI President, David van Nunen, Deanna Doyle, John Doyle and Linda van Nunen

Two past Presidents, Dr. Peter Pinson OAM and Brian Strtatton OAM in the crowd at the opening night.

Josefia Lemon with her works on the opening night.                       AWI Vice President Daniel Pata.

AWI Comittee member Guy Troughton with member Patrick Carroll.

Lined up at the opening : Jocelyn Maughan, Robin Norling, Emeritus AWI President
Brian Styratton OAM, Peter Smeeth, Brain O'Dwyer and AWI Secretary Ingrid Van Dyk.

On 20th and 21st March Robert Wade OAM gave highly informative anecdotal
talks at the exhibition followed by his famous watercolour demonstrations.


John Doyle's Opening Address
Wagner Gallery 16 March 2010.

In the mid 1990’s, I had the great pleasure to be working in Norwich, not terribly far from Constable country, where I ambled around taking in the big sky beauty of the fens. At the time, being in the business of television, I was highly engaged by a popular program called Watercolour Challenge, which I’d watch religiously. It was a very quiet show - at three in the afternoon - with a hypnotic quality.

The Producer I was working with at the time was a Norfolk man and watercolour enthusiast, who moonlighted as a watercolourist and set up weekend watercolour workshops for both pleasure and profit. And he wasn’t alone. In fact, I felt slightly out of the conversation because I had had no experience of working the controlled accident, which is the essence of watercolour. Just about everyone I came into contact with had either had a dabble, knew someone who was dabbling or planned to take up the dabbling in the lucrative watercolour industry upon retirement.

In that part of England watercolour was, and had been for a long time, a general and ongoing part of the cultural conversation. Fire a shot down any street at any time of the day and there was a better than even chance you would hit a watercolourist. It brought home to me the notion that watercolour was the national art of England, driven in the first instance by the thirst for knowledge as part of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. Watercolour was an immediate medium for recording topographical features, geographical features, and botanical features at a time when the rational mind was attempting to come to grips with marrying natural wonder with scientific enquiry. And images of travel were important records, aesthetically and scientifically, equally.

As a result, watercolour in Australia has a very strong tradition. While the Royal Society of Watercolourists was formed in London in 1804 colour had been applied to the paper wet on wet thirty-four years earlier here in Sydney. Sidney Parkinson was the first watercolourist to visit these shores -- in 1770. He was a Scotsman, selected by Joseph Banks to do the illustrating work of the plant and animal specimens collected on the voyage of the Endeavour. Sadly, he died on the last leg of the voyage and never saw his works published as Banks’ florilegium. And it’s interesting to me to look at his work: the plants and the landscapes. Technically, wonderful, but the works suggest not only another time, but more importantly, another place. They have the unambiguous sense of order and light about them that is the Northern hemisphere palette. It would be a hundred years later that the Southern hemisphere palette arrived in the form of an Englishman, Tom Roberts.

The Scottish watercolour society didn’t formalise itself until 1878 and there followed a period of bickering and turf wars about status and the feuds surrounding transparent watercolour and the denser gouache techniques. Mercifully, the Australian Watercolour Institute stayed out of these petty and arcane issues. Distance can be a blessing. As nearly as I can tell, the Australian Watercolour Institute has an enduring legacy of warm and caring hands at the tiller beginning with BE Minns in 1923 who incidentally, exhibited with the Royal Society in London, right through to the current President, David van Nunen.

‘Hermannsburg mission with Mount Hermannsburg in the Background’ is one of my favourite Australian watercolours. It says so much about the artist, Albert Namatjira. While the painting has people in it, it is so agonisingly, frighteningly lonely – bespeaking an indigenous boy raised in the Mission in the outback by German Lutherans, reaching out to a mythical Europe with his unselfconscious, unmistakably antipodean sense of light, space and earth. To look at the recently recovered Tom Roberts watercolours from 1922 is to see an artist reaching out in the opposite direction. Roberts had to train himself to see what Albert could see naturally While, conversely, Albert was never quite as convincing in his almost wooden embracing of the European sense of composition. And for a long time, in the early days, the ambition for all settlers was to recreate Europe here. There are pockets of England throughout Australia, pockets of Scotland and, to be fair, to my mind, huge tracts of Ireland. Which begs the question, where is the shamrock in this exhibition? It has a fabulous pedigree. The Irish Watercolour society was formed years before the Scottish. Could I suggest that next time the hand of friendship be extended towards Dublin.

But how pleasing, how wonderful now, to have a coming together of these three nations in the art of watercolour, whose history to a large extent is as one. As recently as 1997, Scotland at last had an elected parliament sitting in Edinburgh, independent of England. I feel we spiritually seceded when we were finally allowed to sing our national anthem and not God Save the Queen at national events, in the same year, 1997. So I feel it’s wonderful that we stand here as societies, as equals. The sense of Australianness is now as unique to this landscape as England is to England and Scotland to Scotland. Our national anthem is ‘Advance Australia Fair’ – a dullish piece of work written by a Scottish carpenter called Peter Dodds McCormick, but it came close to being ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – what ‘Donald, Where’s Your Trousers?’ is to Scotland or ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ is to England. Waltzing Matilda was penned by Banjo Paterson to the Scottish air Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea. Paterson, incidentally, is an ancestor of the present President of the Australian Watercolour Institute.

Try as we might, we can’t completely get away from our European roots, and nor would we ever want to completely. I am honoured to open this exhibition. I am amazed it has never happened before, because this is not so much about forging links -- the links have been there from the start -- nor is it so much about a collision of cultures, but a collaboration of cultures, truly an exhibition where history, time and place having been together in the past, having wandered each alone for a time, are coming together again. While I’m familiar with the Australian artists represented here, I know nothing about the foreigners at all. But I’m keen to have a close look.