Bill Dobell is back in town. At least an aspect of his output, titled Painter in Paradise: William Dobell in New Guinea, is on show at the S H Ervin Gallery (until 12 July). Focusing on a particular period, this exhibition sheds light on a crucial time in his life. Attempting to escape the publicity and controversy surrounding his 1948 Archibald Prize win, Dobell eagerly accepted the invitation of Sir Edward Hallstrom to be flown to his property in New Guinea. It had a profound effect on him and his outcome for years to come.
This period in Dobell’s life is vividly described in Scott Bevan’s detailed and sensitive biography Bill: The Life of William Dobell. A timely and important book, it offers the opportunity to think about Dobell’s work afresh and be reminded of artistic life in Australia from his birth in 1899 to his death in 1970. The great and damaging turning point in his life was winning the Archibald Prize in 1943 with Portrait of the Artist-Joshua Smith and the hideous court case brought against Dobell and the Art Gallery Trustees by two disappointed, indeed embittered, contenders. Bevan puts those events and their effect into the context of his life.
The book is full of wonderful figures from Margaret Olley, Donald Friend, Patrick White, Mary Gilmore, Helena Rubenstein, Eartha Kitt to Robert Menzies, and many more. But in many ways Bevan has written a love letter to Wangi Wangi, Dobell’s place of protection and sustenance.
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