Pike's farm at Haden 1982-87 signed with initials 'S.F.' lower right oil on canvas 163.3 x 151.2cm (64 5/16 x 59 1/2in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1998
EXHIBITED Wynne Prize 1987, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 December 1987 7 February 1988, cat. no. 31 The Jack Manton Prize: Recent works by fourteen Australian artists, Queensland Art Gallery, 12 February 29 March 1987, cat. no. 23 Sam Fullbrook, The Gallery Space, Soho, New York City, New York, in association with Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 1989, cat. no. 41 Sam Fullbrook, Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 July 6 August 1994, cat. no. 4 Sam Fullbrook: racing colours, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 7 June 24 July 1995, cat. no. 51 Sam Fullbrook, Rex Irwin Gallery, Sydney, 2-27 July 1996, cat. no. 1 Sam Fullbrook, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 15 July 16 August 1997, cat. no. 5
LITERATURE Sam Fullbrook, exh. cat., Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, July 1994, cat. no. 4 (illus.) Felicity St John Moore, Sam Fullbrook: Racing Colours, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, p. 61 (illus.) Sam Fullbrook, exh. cat., Rex Irwin Gallery, Sydney, July 1996, cat. no. 1 (illus.) John McDonald, 'Sea change', Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 13 July 1996, p. 12 Sam Fullbrook, exh. cat., Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, July 1997, cat. no. 5 (illus.)
Sam Fullbrook envisaged this large Darling Downs landscape as a mirror of his personal reflections, observations and experience over many years. He regarded it as his masterpiece and proceeded, accordingly, to move it around, always increasing the price. After first presenting it in the prestigious Wynne and Jack Manton prizes, he arranged a one-man show at the Gallery Space in Greene St, Soho, New York City in association with the Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane; then again raised the price 'as a matter of principle' when he finally exhibited it in Melbourne, whence it entered the Grundy Collection. "I have yet to be convinced that there is any greater incentive to better work than appreciation by the public in sales", he once exclaimed. "I had this opinion 30 seconds after becoming a student and at no time in the ensuing period wavered one jot."
Pike's farm at Haden was the outcome of years of observation of the vast, drab and 'virtually unpaintable' agricultural country around Oakey, on the far side of Queensland's Darling Downs. The painter had bought about 80 acres there and erected a tin shed studio in 1982. The painting reflected his search to discover, as he put it in one of his flourishing letters (written invariably in invoice books):
"more of the volcanic nature of the country as discover the hillocks on the downs are themselves sedimentaries and in cuttings one sees layers of river gravel. Yet in the dales the earth in its darkness has a rich sootiness about it aged burnt . . . The downs are all upturned at the moment ready for the wheat and barley to go in."
In the end Fullbrook tackled this orchestrated composition like a farmer, moving from patch to patch, keeping the surface alive through a process of continuous, measured adjustments to colour, tone and shape. The colours seem to fluctuate, calling out to their kin in other fields, evoking memories of other seasons by shifting in and out of focus according to their depth, weight and brushiness. Able to detect minute differences, Fullbrook uses subtle tonal changes and calligraphic marks to loosen the definition of objects, to link foreground and background, and to achieve the effects of airiness and transparency he so admired in the Old Masters. One senses that sometimes he becomes trapped in his own imagery, revealing his own peering face in the manner of Paul Cezanne in the shifting skies of his later Bathers paintings.
As Sir William Dargie had written in the Queensland Art Gallery 'A Tribute to Sam Fullbrook' exhibition introduction:
"Sam Fullbrook's art is pure painting in the same sense that certain music, such as that of Bach, is pure music. It eschews all literary associations and must be understood only in terms of its own medium of expression a medium, in the case of oil painting, which is limited to lighter and darker colours disposed in areas of varying sizes on a flat surface. Although Fullbrook is a figurative artist and his subject matter is clearly recognisable, it must be understood that the abstract relationships of colours and areas to each other is what he really is about . . .
"There is surely no need for me to draw attention to Sam Fullbrook's brilliant management of colour, except to go further and say that underneath it all is a sound foundation of tonal construction. Were it not so, his colours would not sing as they do."
A picturesque character, Fullbrook appreciated and listened to fine music; for a time he also ran Sunday afternoon musicales at his house in East Brisbane, which he had furnished with a grand piano.
Pike's farm at Haden was Fullbrook's solution to turning the unglamorous brown side of the Darling Downs (that has defeated many a farmer) into the more lucrative field of art. His flourishing signature, S.F. in the lower right, guarantees its authenticity. As he confided,
"Haden is the name of a local place but Pike was nobody in particular I took the name out of the phone book."
A slightly smaller related canvas of an altogether springier and more luminous Darling Downs landscape is Landscape Oakey (Private Collection)