Archibald prize winning painter Sam Fullbrook, who spent a number of his years on the Darling Downs, has been something of a forgotten artist in recent times.
But Curator of Australian Art Angela Goddard plans to remedy that by holding an exhibition of Fullbrook’s works at the Queensland Art Gallery from April 5 to August 10. “Sam Fullbrook is a very important artist,” Angela says. “Sadly he has not been receiving a lot of attention from galleries so the exhibition is really about presenting his work to a wider audience.”
The exhibition, which has taken several years to put together, will feature 35 pictures by Fullbrook including his Archibald Prize-winning portrait of jockey Norman ‘Whopper’ Stephens. Another attraction will be his landscape, Pike’s Farm at Haden, which was done during his years at Oakey. “It is a wonderful painting,” Angela says. “It is an almost patchwork image of the landscape as though you are flying in an aeroplane over farming country … it is a gem.”
The connection Fullbrook had with the Downs and surrounding regions stretches right back to his youth. Born in Sydney, he took to the road at 15 finding work as a timber cutter and a stockman. In July of 1941, he was driving cattle through Dirranbandi when he decided to join Australia’s armed forces and headed to Warwick to enlist.
After serving in the Middle East and New Guinea, Fullbrook’s career began taking shape when, in 1946, he became a student at the National Gallery of Victoria under a Commonwealth rehabilitation scheme. The course provided him with a thorough grounding in the techniques of painting while allowing him to develop his singular blend of artistic conservatism.
In those early times, he supplemented his income by taking jobs as a builder’s laborer, cane cutter, cleaner and painting fences. As the 1960s were unfolding, Fullbrook started holding exhibitions on a regular basis as well as developing an interest in breeding and racing thoroughbreds. His standing in the community soared higher in 1974 when he won the Archibald Prize for his portrait of Stephens, who had fractured a leg in a fall from one of Fullbrook’s horses.
After spending much of his formative years in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Fullbrook later chose, for the most part, to seek the isolation of outback and rural areas. For a time, he lived in a cottage on the property of Toowoomba Councillor Ros Scotney and her partner, the late Dr Frank Ciantar at Pittsworth.
With Fullbrook feeling inspired by the picturesque countryside he subsequently purchased 80 acres at Oakey in 1982 which he named Hermit Hill. Although travelling widely he was active around the district conducting ‘life’ classes in Toowoomba and painting numerous Downs pastels, landscapes ¬ featuring the Van Gogh-like landscape, Oakey ¬ as well as others of birds and animals. He also worked on portraits including one of Dr Ciantar, which he entered for the Archibald. “The portrait is one of four paintings of Sam’s I have,” says Ros Scotney. “It’s beautiful and it’s very personal for me.”
By 1994, with his wandering ways, Fullbrook felt he needed a change of scenery and moved with his horses from Oakey to a property at Tylden in central Victoria where he died in 2004.
Words by Graeme Kelly