Robert Doble is a consummate draughtsman. An assured understanding of drawing underpins all of his work, whether figurative or totally abstract, and a strong sense of form and structure is evident across his entire oeuvre.
Well known for the paintings he makes individually, and for the work he makes as part of the art-duo Doble & Strong (Simon Strong), the artist has staked a unique place in Australian art. His distinctive paintings are instantly recognisable. For this exhibition the artist has turned to his sketchbooks and has selected certain pages to develop into paintings on wooden panels.
There is a time-honoured tradition of artists developing major works from their sketchbooks. Artists often use such books as a means of succinctly putting down ideas which they may wish to develop at a later time – a kind of shorthand of reduced information that contains all the promise of a major production embedded within it. Think, for example, of J. M. W. Turner, whose sketchbooks contained hundreds of brief watercolour sketches made on site, later to be worked up as larger scale oil paintings on canvas. Frida Kahlo’s lavish visual diaries included diagrammatic figuration as well as stream-of-consciousness abstract passages. The beautiful sketchbooks that John Ruskin made, before the advent of photography, were used to urgently record architectural details of every major building in Venice, which were even then rapidly deteriorating: “The rate at which Venice is going,” he told a friend, “is about that of a lump of sugar in hot tea.”
Doble’s innumerable sketchbooks come in all shapes and sizes, and they are used in a variety of ways – as a repository for brief thumbnail sketches; as surfaces for glued-down collaged information; as avenues for the exploration and development of ideas etc. They are vivid and exuberant – much like the artist himself.
In any endeavour of this kind, artists are keenly aware of the importance of retaining the freshness and immediacy of the original sketches, whilst also ensuring that the paintings work in their own right, on their own terms, as finished objects. Doble has taken great delight in the structuring and construction of the paintings; taking the initial drawn idea and expanding it in scale and intensity. And this enjoyment is also experienced by the viewer, who is swept up in the history of marks and sumptuous pictorial layers.
Also important with this kind of painting is a certain amount of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ in the approach. The artist must be constantly alert to the shifts and movements and textures in the paint; and be ready to capitalise on chance and ‘accident’, which might suddenly suggest a whole range of possible directions – any of which may be the making, or the breaking, of the work. This approach demands the full confidence and concentration of the artist, who guides the process. With Doble we are in very capable hands – every decision he has made is just right.
Within the works in this exhibition we may see resonances of such Modernist artists as: Picasso; Keith Vaughan; Jean Michel Basquiat etc. – all of whom merged figuration and abstraction, and all of whom combined a similarly assured fluidity of line with intuitive painterliness.
Doble’s sumptuous colours evoke lush tropical spaces, or forests or lagoons. They are sensuous, hothouse colours, redolent of exotic blooms and vibrant jungle creatures. Doble has spoken of his love of colour and his pleasure in being surprised by the result of unexpected juxtapositions of hues. As with his purely abstract paintings, the colours here also have a psychological impact, and they suggest a range of emotions.
Doble’s subject matter is wide-ranging. Along with his nudes, birds, heads and still lifes, he is also fascinated by paganistic beings, such as fauns and satyrs etc. These poetic elements are recognisable to us from Renaissance paintings, and yet they retain their enigmatic mystery. They exist in an elusive world of the unconscious and of mythology, which the artist has conjured from his imagination. These mythical creations in this exhibition may remind us of the many paintings, drawings and prints made by Picasso. Fauns, centaurs, satyrs and the like were subjects that he returned to again and again throughout his very long career. For Picasso, as for Doble, these creatures represented unbridled forces of nature, passion and sexuality. They are untamable and free; uncontained by convention or morality.
Robert Doble studied art at Reigate School of Art, UK. He then studied Drawing at Croydon School of Art, London, where Frank Auerbach was one of his lecturers. His studies continued at Chelsea School of Art, London. His work is held in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. He is also represented in the collections of Pricewaterhouse Coopers; the Rockhampton Art Gallery; the Botanical Restaurant and private collections in Australia, Japan, the UK, the USA, Italy and Spain.
In 2006 he won the Ergon Energy Central Queensland Art Award and was a finalist in the 55th Blake Prize for Religious Art and the Williamstown Tattersalls Art Prize. In 2008 he was commissioned by Hermes to paint a life-size horse as part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival.
In 2016 he was commissioned by Bar Machiavelli, in Sydney, to paint a major, three-storey high piece ‘Heads l’.