Meet Melbourne Painter-Josh Robbins

By Celeste Hawkins

Josh Robbins is direct and straight to the point. You can see where his many years working in advertising have given him the confidence and clarity in his approach. There isn’t a lot of vagueness here. He knows exactly what he is doing in terms of his style, what his work portrays and why he is doing it. That fact that he can sell his ideas effectively has landed him a spot in Flinders Lane Gallery and a recent acquisition of his large -scale work, ‘Roost’, by a prestigious Law firm in Melbourne. In contrast to this self awareness, Josh has a sweet naivety about the art world, endowing him with the gift of following his own path and not being drawn into anything beyond that feels real and authentic to his innate artistic direction.

in front of artwork

Josh in his studio

Tell me about this acquisition!

The acquisition was for my next show, ‘Roost’, so it was not originally intended as an acquisition. I just wanted to do something big. And take a year to paint it. I had a plan to sell the eight panels individually, but was told by another artist to keep them all together. As timing would have it, Claire at the Gallery found a buyer. He had purchased a piece of mine previously and had a space 10 meters long to fit all the panels. It’s great that its on display and I can go and have a look at it every now and again.

Roost 2014

Josh Robbins, Roost 2014, oil and mixed media on linen, 200 x 800cm.

Where is the starting point for you in terms of your painting practice?

I worked in advertising for nearly 20 years. I took six months off in 2007 and put on my first show. I put that on myself and it all went pretty well and I got further inspired. I then I went back to work again, but just got jack of working in advertising. I always had a really vague plan of wanting to paint. At that point, I was about to be a father for the third time and thought it was a really good time to jump ship and see if I could paint (Well, that and the fact that I got fired!). I got into ‘Exploration 12’, that went well and then Claire offered me a spot in the gallery (Flinders Lane).


Josh Robbins, Spring time with the Barbets

So, you were sort of thrust straight into it, so to speak?

I’ve got no real reference point for any other galleries or even gallery life and I know very little about other galleries. I think a fair bit of naivety can take you a fair way and keep you honest. But on the flip side, I think you sort of need to know what’s going on and how things work and that’s sort of where I am now!

Panel 1_LowRes

Josh Robbins, Panel 1 of Roost, 2014

Josh explains that it was the need for more control over what he was doing as a key driver for working full time as an artist:

I did art school and went in a graphic arts direction with a focus on advertising. I’ve always, tinkered and painted and played around with type. And with advertising, I always had a vague notion that I wouldn’t do it forever. Making ads is fun. Making things are fun. But everything In Australia takes a long time. I’d work on a project for 12 months and maybe nothing would happen. I worked in New Zealand for four years and that was great! I find in Australia that we have a bit more of a corporate mentality where ideas constantly get watered down and changed. I wanted more control over what I was doing and not having someone ask me to change things. So now, when I’m on a whim and I want to do something, I can do it. And that’s great. However, the downside is that if something goes wrong I’ve got no one else to blame but myself. I can’t say it’s the client’s fault or the director’s fault!

Panel 8_LowRes

Josh Robbins, Panel 8 of Roost, 2014

Why the birds?

Originally I wasn’t massively into birds. I was painting a lot of trees, and particularly Japanese blossoms and often using plywood as a base. I decided soon after that trees should have something in them. And so I started messing around on paper and experimenting with drawing different types of birds. I’ve always liked the blind drawing technique and got started on larger compositions and the birds looked pretty cool. Now, I’m developing more of an appreciation for birds. My parents live down at Phillip Island where there are European gold finches and Blue fairy wrens. It’s very exciting to see these birds flitting about in nature.

Josh and bird

Josh and Mr. Raven

Josh is also very into Taxidermy. In the studio a raven sits on the top shelf lording over the happenings in the studio.

I have had a fascination with crows and ravens for quite a long time. Then my wife got me one! She also booked me into a one day course which was fun, I taxidermed a mouse, his name is Todd but it’s quite an expensive pastime. I would love a peacock! Apparently they come from New Zealand and are seen as a pest over there!


Todd and friend

How would you describe your style, or what you’re trying to achieve with your work?

Stylistically, I am more about the aesthetic. There are no ideas in my painting. No political commentary or symbolism drawn from Historical artists. I like the power of how things look. I love when a picture stops you. It could be the technique or the way the paint falls or everything-the composition or what it is. I think having the art director background has had an influence; I like to make things look a certain way. I just want to create beautiful pictures that are quite intriguing and intricate. That is the basis of what I do. And the blind drawing again is trying to create a new aesthetic. The blind drawing helps with distortions and there is a fair bit of freedom in that because you’re not worried about whether it looks right. The only worry I have is that maybe it looks too right!

Panel 3_MLowRes

Josh Robbins, Panel 3 of Roost, 2014

Josh creates work on large-scale canvases using oils, but has also created a multitude of works on paper using gouache or ink. In the early days of trialing, he used floor stain and enamel paint, whatever was lying around. The underlying message that Josh is intent on saying is that his work speaks for itself.

Some people have asked is it just purely decorative? But I think there is something quite powerful in the notion that ‘it is what it is’. There is nothing hidden, nothing to decipher. This is who I am and this is it. The meaning of the artwork is the artwork itself. I think there’s simplicity, beauty, bravery and depth in exposing all that you are, all of the time. Now I have a different eye than when I was a younger. I want to refine my technique and not refine it. It was more raw years ago and I like that. There is a balancing act. I don’t want to ever be too slick.

Studio 1

“Sometimes 80 percent of painting is not painting. And I find that since doing this full time, the more you do the more you get inspired.”

shelf 1

Bits and pieces in the studio

One to three Trogons

Josh Robbins, One to three Trogons


Josh talks more intently about his need to be clear and direct with his work:

One of the things I’m having a struggling internal dialogue with at the moment is conceptual or installation art. I’m not poo-pooing the artists endeavors I think getting out there and making stuff is great, but, If you need an A4 sheet of paper to describe what’s going on, I wonder if it’s missing the mark a little bit? And, I’m not sure the answer is ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s what the audience makes of it’. What’s the intent of the artist? What is their expectation of the audience? And why does it need such a massive explanation? These questions are important to me.

I remember hearing an author talk about trying to keep his writing as a continuous unbroken dream’. If you keep getting too fancy with your writing or wording, you disrupt the dream. Similarly with art, if there are too many external reference points or cryptic symbols you disrupt the dream. I guess I feel that a painting or art can’t do anything unless it does it by itself. It shouldn’t rely on an external explanation of itself or what it is or what it means (an A4 sheet of paper blu-tacted to the wall), to be understood by the viewer.

Raven 1

More studio bits!

Explaining that the botanical look in his works was not his intention, he has also been influenced by Japanese art for the graphic nature of it and its surface beauty. As far as contemporary painters go, like many artists he draws on a few for inspiration in either their style or their personal attitude to their work.

I think that some of the elements used by Brett Whitely come through as a strong influence in my paintings. He’s my long time painting crush. I also value the ideas of Francis Bacon and the way he used paint, painting was a very visceral thing for him. I am also in awe of Joshua Yeldham’s work and the attention to detail in his famous Owl paintings. Rhys Lee, Amber Wallis Fiona Rae and Kateeric are some of the others whose work I admire. I also appreciate the amount of detail in the classic realist painters as Constable and Von Geurard; I’m amazed at their output of work, its just crazy!


Josh Robbins’ exhibition is on at Flinders Lane Gallery in May from the 5th-23rd. Details here


More things to do in Melbourne Town!

By Celeste Hawkins

Are you new to Melbourne or just simply want to tap into your creative side? I’m on a bit of a roll with ‘things to do’ lists at the moment. And sometimes its just great if someone else can do all the thinking for you in this regard…

Check out the Visit Victoria website for Art related things to do in Melbourne town


ACCA-Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

 Life Drawing!

Having attended quite a few life drawing classes over the years, I highly recommend these websites to get you started:

Melbourne Life Drawing and Life Models Society



Walk to art!

Read about walking art tours of Melbourne here:

Walk to art

And for the best Melbourne Street Art tours:


Our guide -Melbourne Street Art Tour 2013

I cannot recommend this enough!

I took a school group on the tour two years ago. The tour went for two hours followed by a visit to the Blender studios, where you could sneak a peak at some work spaces and the Dark Horse Experiment gallery.

You would never be able to find all those hidden gems by yourself. Nor would you know where to find an original Banksy, (that is a controversial statement in itself). Would you know the backgrounds of a lot of the local paste up or stencil artists and what motivates them? The students had not done so much walking in years, but they were really motivated by what they saw and heard!


5 things to see in and around Melbourne this week…

By Celeste Hawkins

In no particular order, here are just 5 of the multitude of things to see around Melbourne town this week!

Vist Arc One for the group show: Mind Shadows

Pat Brassington

Pat Brassington, Installation View

 Visit Fortyfive Downstairs for the drawings of Mel Kerr


Mel Kerr: Long shadows of things left unsaid (2014), ink, guache and coloured pencil, 625mm x 505mm


Check out Craft Victoria for all things white…


IMAGE Honor Freeman Collecting the Dust







Discover the Cabinet of Wonders at Tasma Terrace, National Trust


Rod Mc Rae-Operation Foxtrot, 2010


Attend the Art Opening for Mia Salsjo at MARS Gallery on Thursday night!

Mia 2

Works in progress-Mia Salsjo



Hannah Quinlivan-Still Motion





Self portrait with drawing, 2015

Catalogue Essay by: Marguerite Brown-MAArtCur 2015

Hannah Quinlivan’s work is varied in its form and materials of construction, yet consistently employs infinitely twisting and turning lines as a conduit of expression. There is a sense of abundance within Quinlivan’s creative approach that is reflected in these un-ending lines, lines that fill up enormous expanses of canvas in her painted and drawn two dimensional works, or that consume volumes of space in her sculptural pieces that have also been described as spatial drawings. In this latest series of work she explores notions surrounding temporal reality and memory, mining these unseen realms through a rhythmic and organic visual language.

With each aluminum or steel thread of wire that the artist bends upon itself and weaves into others, Quinlivan allows her intricate craft to direct the expression of certain themes. The energy of creation required by this process driven technique is communicated to the viewer upon encountering each piece, as the numerous delicately wrought connections seems to resonate with a vibrational hum.

Still Motion

Still Motion, 2014, steel wire and aluminium wire, 245 x 180 x 40cm

Quinlivan’s lines of steel or drawn threads become bearers of ideas that transcend their materiality. Linear threads and their haptic manipulation have for millennia been symbolically connected to notions of time. The Moirai of ancient Greek mythology, also known at the Fates, were three goddesses who through the act of spinning thread with distaff and spindle, controlled the life of every person from birth to death, when their thread was abruptly cut. Similar female deities exist in Roman, Norse and Slavic mythologies, where thread is consistently wielded as a manifestation of destiny. As such, a simple strand and the way it is stretched, allotted and truncated, became an ancient way of comprehending the movement of a human life through time.

Yet as suggested by the title of this exhibition, Still Motion, Quinlivan conceives of time not in terms of a straight progression, but rather as a fractured experience that speeds up or slows down from one moment to the next, depending on a myriad of internal factors which alter our perception of it. As an area of enquiry the concept of time traverses psychological, scientific, mythological and philosophical realms. Quinlivan makes her own artistic contribution to this field of understanding, expressing the ambiguous, shifting, circular (rather than direct) nature of time through line-work that conveys such dynamic states.

This Broken Hill

This Broken Hill, 2014, steel wire, PVC, rubber and shadow, 190 x 170 x 23cm

A sense of interconnection is another critical notion that underpins Quinlivan’s practice. Not only is this apparent through the myriad of intersecting and conversing visual elements of the work, but in the fact that the artist allows each piece in a series to inform the next. This occurs as she traces the shadow lines cast by her three-dimensional spatial drawings, which subsequently form the basis of future works. Thus each piece contains the echoes of its predecessors, woven together into an overarching web. This generative interconnection, and the aesthetic elaborations that permeate her practice form an elegant expression of the nature of memory itself – specifically the meandering, non-static pathways of the human psyche that carry the continual resurgence, and modification of memories.

Time is out of Joint

Time is Out of Joint, 2015, acrylic on linen, 150 x 300cm.

While charting this complex internal topography, Quinlivan evokes both an ephemeral delicacy and mineral toughness that belies the immediate sense of fragility present within her work. Excavating the intangible, Quinlivan’s works oscillate between tranquility and flux, existing in a paradoxical state aptly described as still motion.


137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC
Tues – Fri 11am to 6pm, Sat 11am to 5pm (Final Saturday of exhibition gallery closes at 3pm.), (03) 9654 3332

Elektromont-Dion Horstmans


Catalogue essay by: Marguerite Brown, MA ArtCur

The sculptures of Dion Horstmans slice through the space that surrounds them with angular force and superb brevity of form. In his latest exhibition Elektromont, Horstmans draws upon some of the ideas and influences that have long permeated his practice. Speed and electricity, thunder and lightning, the stars and planets are all aspects of the universe that Horstmans has for many years sought to conjure through his geometric wall sculptures. His powder-coated steel works consist of a mass of lines that intersect and crossover one another, forming numerous angles that change depending on the perspective from which they are viewed. This creates an optical evocation of movement that belies their essentially static nature.

Dion 1

Dion Horstmans at work in his Sydney studio, creating works for Elektromont.

With their formal precision and hard-edged exactitude, one might assume Horstmans relies on digital process and mathematical mapping to arrive at his finished sculptures. However this is not the case. Rather, it is a physical and intuitive engagement with materials and space that drives his practice. He also cites the angular designs and bold use of colours such as red, black and white present in the Polynesian and Maori art that he grew up with as a prevalent influence.[1] Perhaps another, deeper similarity to these Pacific art forms is reflected in Horstmans’ desire to give material presence to fundamental elements from the natural world that are energetic and essentially intangible – such as speed and light.

While having forged his own distinctive place in the sphere of contemporary sculpture, Horstmans continues an impressive lineage of artists who have for over a century been inspired by the art of tribal cultures. Most famously Pablo Picasso incorporated the ambiguous, non-fixed perspectives and mask like facial features of African tribal art in the iconic Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painted in 1907. In doing so he invented an entirely new visual language and sewed the seeds for the development of Cubism.

Dion 2

Above: Horstmans’s studio wall, with recent works.

Further points of formal and conceptual resonance between Horstmans work and this revolutionary art movement can be detected in the linear-edged, painted facet that Picasso and Georges Braque employed as the multipliable unit of Cubist image-making. These irregular and often angular planes were arranged on the canvas to hint at representational certainties, while simultaneously avoiding them. In a sense this is analogous to the ever-shifting spatial faceting found in Horstmans sculptures, where connecting steel tubes form outlines to imaginary planes, enabling the mind of the viewer to essentially fill in the gaps if they choose. These imaginary planes coalesce to form prisms and cubes – and like the Cubists rejection of the traditional fixed-point perspective, Horstmans sculptures gain their essential dynamism through the many ways they can be visually understood when physically encountered.

Such similarities reflect an enduring artistic drive to reshape and reconstitute positive and negative space, as artists seek to frame another dimension beyond that of lived, everyday reality. This impulse traverses centuries, cultures, and media – and forms the foundation of some of the most profound and interesting artworks.

Horstmans has developed an approach to sculpture that is immediately identifiable, and is clearly driven by his innate sense of balance and ability to achieve beauty within an object. His works are starry, prismic, and universal, seducing the viewer with an oblique, crystalline grace.

[1] Vogue Living, Jan/Feb 2015 p. 47



Dion Horstmans’ exhibition

24th February 2015 – 14th March 2015