Known for drawing his inspiration from art historical precedent and the whimsy and banality of every day life, Townsville-based artist Ron McBurnie is one of Australia’s most skilled and idiosyncratic contemporary printmakers.
Taken from McBurnie’s ‘romantic’ series, the etching Tobias and the angel 2008 reveals his erudite and passionate engagement with art history and explores the dramatised landscape tradition that came to prominence in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The terrifying potential of nature is captured in his sublime, tumultuous sky, rendered in dramatic contrasts of chiaroscuro. Dense layers of etched line recall the techniques of master printmakers of the past, such as Samuel Palmer and Frederick Landseer Griggs, whom McBurnie has studied closely. Delving further into the art historical canon, McBurnie’s trio of figures—Tobias, the angel Gabriel and their canine companion—derive their motif from a seventeenth-century engraving by Dutch artist Hendrik Goudt, after the celebrated painting by Goudt’s one‑time collaborator Adam Elsheimer.
Despite this conscious layering of pictorial references, McBurnie’s work is a unique and personal elucidation of the landscape. His biblical figures are situated alongside the present‑day Ross River in Queensland, a site he often visits with his Irish terrier Lou Lou, who is also featured in the composition. By punctuating his interpretation of the contemporary setting with art historical allusions, McBurnie deftly builds upon the rich landscape tradition that precedes him. Yet, he never appears archaic. Rather, Tobias and the angel is a compelling display of his mastery of the etching medium and a remarkably fresh portrayal of his local Queensland landscape.
Rebecca Edwards Gordon Darling Intern, Australian Prints and Drawings
in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013