This painting forms part of the magnificent Pilbara Series, the last major series painted by Fred Williams before his death in 1982. Williams first visited the Pilbara with his family in May 1979, at the invitation of Sir Roderick Carnegie, his friend and Chairman of CRA Limited (now Rio Tinto). Excited by the unique qualities of this ‘new’ landscape and inspired by the possibilities it presented for his art, Williams and his wife, Lyn, visited again in early June. By mid-June, Williams had produced almost 100 gouaches depicting the dramatic landscape of this remote area in Australia’s far north-west. Painted both on site and in Williams’ Melbourne studio, the gouaches encompass the grand, impressive aspects of the landscape – including gorges, mountains and the fascinating flat-topped mesas – as well as intimate studies of spiders in their webs and local wildflowers. Many are naturalistic and, in essence, document the landscape, depicting subjects from various viewpoints and at different times of the day. Others reveal the development of Williams’ vision of the Pilbara as it was refined and clarified through the process of painting and the intervention of time, distance and memory.
The distillation of Williams’ physical and emotional experience of the Pilbara continued in the paintings, which he produced very quickly some two years later, between March and May 1981. The paintings adopt close-up and aerial views, propelling the viewer into and across the landscape, and often incorporate compositional devices familiar from Williams’ earlier work. Large in scale and striking in colour, they are powerfully evocative of the Pilbara and in many ways, operate as both symbolic and representational depictions of inland Australia.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia