I do ‘strip’ paintings of the beach using sand glued on – but the wind has worn me to a ‘frazzle’ … My final half doz. strip paintings are my best.
In Beachscape, Erith Island 1, Fred Williams portrayed the changing faces of the shore at the point where the sea joins the land. He depicted the scene as if looking down from above, taking four slices, as it were, of a walk along a beach (soft yellow sand, grassed areas, more rocky ground and hard crunchy sand; an acqua sea, a shallower more sandy pastel blue sea, deeper darker blue shoals, as well as areas full of living things). He painted it with sure rapid strokes, full of a vitality that conveys the living energy of the scene. He used delicious, sensuous colours, rich blues and greens, purples and yellows, which sing together.
In the late 1960s, Williams began to divide a sheet of paper into several horizontal strips in order to present different aspects of one scene on the same page. He conveyed the complexity of perception, the way we rarely focus on just one thing (in a tunnelled vision), but take quick grabs from various viewpoints to gather information and combine these together to comprehend what we see. He captured the way that looking takes place over time, and encouraged us to take time to ‘read’ his strips. But he presented the strips together, with the colours, the gestures, interrelating so that we see the image as a whole as well as in separate parts.
With the historians, Stephen Murray-Smith and Ian Turner, and fellow painter Clifton Pugh, Williams travelled to Erith Island in Bass Strait in March 1974. Because of poor weather, Williams and his friends were unable to leave the island as soon as intended. After days of strong winds the weather broke and Williams painted some of his finest gouaches, including Beachscape, Erith Island 1.
1Fred Williams’s diaries, 27–28 March 1974.
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