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Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life

The Independent Weekly: August 2009

By Diana Carroll

"…Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life is a sensitive celebration of an artistic life and a wonderful insight into Adelaide’s artistic and social history.…"

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Art Gallery of SA Education Services News: July–August 2009

"…A new biography, Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life, pays tribute to a South Australian artist who first achieved recognition as a portraitist and social realist painter in the 1940s and 50s.…"

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The Adelaide Review: June 2009

By John Neylon

"…This recently published and elegantly designed book (with numerous spotlights on Adelaide art and cultural circles of the modern era) by Lorraine McLoughlin is a timely and comprehensive introduction to a significant but until recently, 'under the radar' Adelaide artist whose achievements and contribution, particularly her social-realist imagery of the 1950s- 60s, deserves full recognition…"

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Wet Ink: June 2009

By Dominique Wilson

"…In Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life, McLoughlin meticulously and sensitively explores this Australian artist’s life to reveal a gentle, humble woman of great integrity. The author’s respect and admiration for this artist is evident in her thoughtful analysis of Robertson’s work and her interpretation of the information she gathered.

"This is a beautiful book. Accompanying the main text is an abundance of Robertson’s personal photographs, sketches and coloured representations of her art, as well as a generous number of boxed texts complementing the information in the body of
the work…"

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The Anglican Guardian: June 2009

By Michael Whiting

"…Lorraine McLoughlin's book is a sensitive and thoughtful portrayal of a significant South Australian artist. It is superbly illustrated and the text does justification not only to the diverse and challenging œuvre of the artist, but is a sympathetic portrayal of a devoted and talented Anglican. Lorraine is to be congratulated…"

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Victor Harbor Times: 14 May 2009

By Lisa Bachmayer

"…Lorraine said the book, which contains 30 photos of Barabara's childhood and 60 paintings, was a privilege to write.'This woman deserves a place in Australian art history … and my aim is to make people in the art world take notice of her,' she said…"

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Quotes from the speech by Hon Lynn Arnold, speaking at the launch of Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life, at the South Australian Writers’ Centre, on 10 May 2009 

“Lorraine McLoughlin’s book on Barbara Robertson is an important contribution to the literature on South Australian art, bringing into the limelight a fine artist who should long ago have entered the public honour roll of South Australia’s great painters.

“There is a sad irony that Barbara Robertson started her exhibiting career just after the golden age of the ‘Adelaide Angries’ which the late Max Harris described as artists who ‘were a threat to accepted thought about identity’, yet more than any of them she painted a reality of the 1950s that a comfortable prosperous post-war community refused to see – the poor and the dispossessed, black and white. 

“Later her work would portray a personal reconciling pilgrimage seemingly based on the biblical dictum ‘blessed are the poor’ which, by upending cultural stereotypes, gave enriched meaning to religious themes of agape, shalom and grace. By the time she retired from painting, her journey of reconciliation reached its apogee in the symmetry of her painted mandalas.

“The fine telling of this artistic journey, embellished with the effect upon her work of encounters with the various artistic influences through her early years, also relates the significant events of her personal life, giving us the privilege of feeling we now know Barbara Robertson, painter and pilgrim.

“Self-publishing, a critical avenue for many now famous writers and poets of the C19, is now back into its own; and with Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life it has been the means of bringing her life and work to us all. However, for those who have travelled the self-publishing road, we know how much Lorraine will have had to do to bring such a well-produced publication to fruition.”

Views of Tracey Lock-Weir, Curator at the Art Gallery of South Australia, from the book’s foreword

Barbara Robertson: An Australian artist’s life reveals Robertson as a remarkably perceptive artist of great humility. The author, Lorraine McLoughlin was unexpectedly drawn into the intriguing world of Barbara Robertson, through her role as director of the Leafy Sea Dragon Festival (now Festival Fleurieu), on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. McLoughlin’s response to first meeting this fellow local was affirming, and this timely detailed story of the subject’s life and art is the result of McLoughlin’s foresight and determination to present Robertson’s significance to a wider audience. The previously little-known details of Robertson’s captivating years as an artist, teacher and activist have for the first time, been meticulously pieced together by McLoughlin. We discover that although charmed in youth by familial support and patronage, Robertson’s career has been firmly shaped by necessity and her innate acquiescence.

Born in Adelaide in 1921, Barbara was the artistic daughter of talented Adelaide photographer, Eric Robertson. She commenced studies at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts in 1939, and soon received recognition and patronage. Notably, the generous patronage of her teacher colleague, Veta Macghey, allowed Robertson to pursue her singular interests in tonal painting in Melbourne where she studied the Max Meldrum method under the successful portrait painter, William Dargie, at the National Gallery School. Living and studying in Melbourne from 1948 to 1949, she identified with the profound humanity of social realist painting which informed her mature work. Her ability to align her strong painting skills with a deep empathy for people and her surrounding world saw Robertson rise as a successful figurative artist, and later the painter of spiritual, Aboriginal and vivisection themes of startling poignancy. While Robertson has long been an underestimated figure in the rich history of visual arts in South Australia, today her art resonates with her audience and is stirring a groundswell of appreciation.

Tracey Lock-Weir
Curator of Australian Paintings and Sculpture
Art Gallery of South Australia

Lorraine McLoughlin
BA Dip T Grad Dip (Ed. Admin.)
Grad Dip (Creative Writing)
SA Great Regional Community Individual Award Winner 2007 SaveSave