Brushman of the Bush: Jack Absalom

Jack Absalom (1927-) is the sole surviving member of the Brushmen of the Bush and is still living in Broken Hill. To meet Jack is to meet the best of what it means to be Australian. He is generous, warm, and humorous. There is a great sense of adventure twinkling in his eyes which are the gateway to the intelligence and talent that create magnificent outback landscapes.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Jack and spending some time speaking with him about his painting techniques. He was so generous in passing on many of his tales of painting in the outback and tips about how to get that perfect image. Here I am with Jack Absalom in his gallery in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Jack Absalom was born in Port Augusta, South Australia, the country we have travelled through over the last week with J of Sandringham. He was bought up in the Nullarbor, a semi-arid treeless plain, west of the area J travelled through. He is a man of many talents apart from his artistic gifts. Jack has also been a miner in Broken Hill and a television star of an ABC productions on surviving in the outback and Absalom’s Outback which visited remote locations in a Chrysler Sigma. (Wikipedia) Here he is in the Steps of Charles Sturt, inland explorer.

In 1972 Absalom made a trip to the Flinders Ranges with a group of artists and here he discovered his natural talent to paint the landscape he knew so well. Although he had never painted before, he quickly became one of the Brushmen of the Bush exhibiting all over Australia and the world raising money for charity. This Desert Landscape was painted in 1973 only a year after he started painting.

To learn a little more about Jack Absalom I am going to quote words by John Pickup, another of the Brushmen.
”Jack [Absalom] is a real character. He's a person who is larger than life, as you'd expect from a person who was a former kangaroo shooter and heavy weight boxer. I must confess I've never tangled with him!" jokes John. Jack took up painting after observing Eric Minchin and another painter at work. At the time, Jack was tending camp for them as an outback guide. He asked for a brush and canvas and has been painting since that day. "You'll find a great love of the colours of the country [in Jack's work]," says John. "A very good control of light. (Ref:: The painting Cha Cha demonstrates his gift in creating light.
And in this work of the Flinders Ranges done in 1983 I love his ripples of light across the land features.
The use of light and shadow in The Pinnacles, Western Australia is by contrast dramatic as is the lack of vegetation.

By comparison, The Homestead, Mr Padawatta sparkles with what seems like dustings of light. We can learn so much from this man who had no formal training as an artist. It was painted in 1980.
In some of Jack’s paintings there is something quite unexpected and unusual - a touch of soft, blue green which is the colour of the saltbush that populates much of this land. Note the softness in Pintibee Water Hole (1982).
And also in Central Australian Landscape painted in 1989 by a man with a keen eye for the great contrasts in colour and texture in the Australian outback.
What I love and respect about the works of Jack Absalom is that he has the talent and knowledge of this land to unite its great contrasts. Look how he has picked up the soft blue greys of the saltbush and coloured the water in harmony; reflecting, not the sky as you would expect, but the vegetation.
A little less grey in Water Birds on the Cooper. But nevertheless a softness to the image in this case brought by the rains which are always unexpected and a welcome relief.
I cant find a title or date for this painting but the colours are soft and quite different to many of his works.

But this artist keeps on giving. Not only does Jack Absalom record images of the outback in its many costumes but he is fundamentally a story teller. In April 1997 Jack Absalom opened his gallery in Broken Hill which showcases his oil paintings, prints, publications, DVDs and his opal collection. When I met him it was a quiet day which gave me the gift of his time, spending a couple of hours telling yarns about his life in the outback and his great love of painting the landscape and its people. As he told me at this time he and his wife would disappear every year into the sunset to paint for two months, uninterrupted and absorbed.
In his story telling we meet the stockmen, as seen here in *Shifting the Mob
And in Victoria River Captain Starlight and the White Bull. An interesting subject matter considering Captain Starlight was one of our notorious bush rangers.
The Muster is quite wonderful with the dust swirling around. J of Sandringham assures me she has bought a considerable amount of this dust back home with her following the tour of the outback.
And what enticing story is unfolding in this lone rider heading into the desert.
We are equally attracted by our curiosity to wonder about the lives lived in the lonely homesteads.
or the Opal Miner’s Hut at Andamooka.
The intrigue surround the Prospectus Camp is palpable as there are no prospectors! What has happened? Where are they?
And where might this road in Outback Station be leading?
So many stories, so many different scenarios- all making the great Australian Outback as seen through the eyes of one of their kind- Jack Absalom. This one is titled Central Australia.
Kronji Rocks Rock Outcrop. And finally this one. Not because it is special in any way and I think might have been created early in his career. I have included it because I love Boab trees. So quaint: almost personified.

Jack Ansalom has been the recipient of various awards, including Australian Achiever of the Year Award (1988) and the Advance Australia Award (1995) both acknowledging his contribution to art; the Broken Hill Citizenship Award for his promotion of Broken Hill; and the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2006 for service to the visual arts as a painter and to the community through fundraising for a range of charitable organisations. (Wikipedia)

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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