In late 1918 Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin embarked on a brief artistic collaboration that produced Australia's first abstract paintings - a significant innovation in the context of a prevailing conservatism in Australian art. De Maistre evolved a theory of colour harmonisation based on analogies between colours of the spectrum and notes of the musical scale, following initial studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Combining Wakelin's direct, spontaneous approach with de Maistre's more formal analysis of problems the two artists painted colour keyboards and colour wheels in which individual colour tones were linked with particular musical notes, aiming to derive harmonising colours from harmonising sounds. They then used these colour keyboards and devices to produce a series of small paintings, later developing fully abstract works. Although de Maistre stressed the importance of the colour/music relationship, his experiments into abstraction were prompted by a search for spiritual meaning akin to that of other artists such as Kandinsky in the context of the late 19th and early 20th century movements of theosophy, anthroposophy, spiritualism and the occult.
The results of their experiments were shown at their 'Colour in Art' exhibition at Gayfield Shaw's Art Salon in 1919. Works were characterised by high-key non-figurative colour, large areas of flat paint and simplified form. However although their experiments met with interest from some quarters, the exhibition was laughed at by the conservative establishment. While Wakelin moved on to investigations of the more conventional tonal theories being propounded by Max Meldrum, de Maistre left Australia in 1930, unable to make a living from his work.