Yeronga, Queensland, Australia 1895 – Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 1988
A South Coast road 1951 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Throughout his long life, it was always nature, the essence of nature and its relationship to light that was the subject of Lloyd Rees’s paintings and drawings. He altered his palette from warm reds and greens to light blues, pinks and yellows; he changed from painting the strong forms and sensuous curves of a scene to daring images evoking an ethereal aura of the universe. Whatever the approach, he was always concerned with the beauty of light and the way it radiates over and illumines a landscape. He pursued this unconcerned about current fashions.
Rees painted A south coast road during the summer of 1951, during a holiday visit to Werri Beach with his family. He first went to the area in 1940, and returned again and again over the years, eventually building a cottage, ‘Caloola’, overlooking the headland. In commencing a painting Rees would find a site that attracted him (‘it finds you, not you it’), and his family would take him there and leave him to paint, while they spent the day swimming and relaxing. Sometimes he worked on two pictures at once – one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
The view Rees depicted in A south coast road is still there today, visible from a small lay-by on the Princes Highway on the road to Gerringong, sign-posted ‘Bushbank Walking Track’. Looking down towards the bay you can see a large triangular shape that is framed by the road and the hedges that form the central focus of Rees’s composition. He changed and modified the view, making the road and the landforms more curvaceous. He invented a foreground, enhancing the sweeping, interweaving rhythms of the landscape that lead you into the distance. The actual countryside around Werri is a lush English green but Rees used reds and browns, deep blues and dark greens to give it warmth, to present it as bathed in a golden light. He looked at reality and modified it – he went beyond what they eyes see to convey a deeper, more intense feeling - the force and mystery of nature. He noted:
that’s what I felt about that south coast country. Realistically you looked out in a colour sense it was often too green for me. So sometimes I’d absolutely bring the warmth into it.1
On Rees’s first visit to a site he made a quick, rapid emotional sketch, a response to the place, through which he came to understand its structure. Later, he returned and painted outdoors directly onto the canvas, mapping out the main areas in paint and working this up into the final composition, in which he gave the painting an inner life of its own, independent of the subject matter. He commented:
I might be out the whole morning and realise that I hadn’t looked at the subject once. I’d been looking at the picture all the time, the canvas. But the sense of environment, you know, to be working on a headland and to get the ozone off the ocean, the waves pounding, that was to me what made it so important working out of doors.2
He assimilated the atmosphere of a place and infused this into his image. He worked slowly and returned to the site day after day, often finishing his paintings in his studio and using the initial drawing as a reminder of his strong sensation in front of nature. He noted:
the drawings I did were merely enough to indicate the rhythm [of the landscape]. And a lot of them haven’t even survived … I always practically invariably, however short the session, cover the whole canvas always ... I never start with a section and then move from it. I must cover the whole thing.3
Over successive summers he painted many well-known scenes around Kiama, paintings such as The road to Berry 1947 and Road to the Mountain 1954, some of his most lyrical landscapes. A south coast road, with its flowing rhythms and gentle caressing light, is typical of this time.
1Lloyd Rees, Interview with James Gleeson, 18 August 1978, National Gallery of Australia (transcript p.26).
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002