Painting a New World

After digesting the yearly dose of Archibalds at the Art Gallery of NSW, I strolled across the park to the State Library of NSW to see the John Lewin exhibition.

I really didn’t know that much about Lewin apart from his delicate paintings of birds but the exhibition was like a trip to a new land through paint.

I couldn’t imagine the excitement for an artist to confront new and wonderous plants and animals and a landscape so different from the lush greens of England. His soft grey greens of the Australian bush were outstanding and I wondered about his choice of palette before he left.

The works were delicate and light and his studies of moths and caterpillars were inspirational.

In a room adjoined to the exhibition, a room of stuffed birds and animals perched on tables with pencils and paper ready for new explorers. The walls were hung with brightly coloured parrots, stuffed feathery owls and spiky echidnas drawn by visitors from around the world. Scribbly signatures with their country of origin at the bottom of each drawing gave some clue as to where they had come from. I guess the explorer-artists felt much like Lewin looking at these strange animals up close, taking in detail that you would never get from books.

The State Library is full of books with plates and illustrations but countless artists but nothing substitutes for the real thing -stuffed or not.


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