Painter in Paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea

Art Life , Exhibitions Jun 15, 2015 No Comments

From Sharne Wolff

It seems pretty crazy now, but perhaps the idea of establishing a sheep station in the highlands of Papua New Guinea wasn’t so ludicrous at the time. In any event, a daring decision by Australian businessman Edward Hallstrom to begin farming sheep at Nondugl in the central Wahgi Valley during late 1940s created the circumstances for William Dobell’s first PNG visit. With one seat remaining, Dobell agreed to accompany a group on his first ever aeroplane flight in 1949. Hosted in Nondugl by the Hallstrom family, the artist stayed on for several months.


Originally happy to escape the controversy surrounding his second Archibald Prize win back home, Dobell found himself captivated by the tropical light, rich landscape and the quiet dignity of the local people. Having originally travelled without most of his artist tools, including sufficient paper – which he was forced to scrounge from co-travellers and hosts – Dobell returned to PNG the following year armed with camera and proper equipment. Painter in Paradise charts a compelling and comprehensive overview of both Dobell visits through numerous 35mm photographs, drawings, paintings and objects drawn from public and private collections. Alongside the cringeworthy strangeness of the colonial account of the time, the show uncovers the undeniable influence of these PNG journeys to Dobell’s later output. As Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.”

Until July 12
S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney
Pic: Photographer unknown Portrait of William Dobell sketching an unidentified man in New Guinea 1949 (detail), National Library of Australia.

Sharne Wolff

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