Roger Beale: Sun, rain, flowers. Humble House Gallery, 93 Wollongong Street, Fyshwick. Until October 27.
Roger Beale worked as a senior public servant in Canberra until he retired 15 years ago to follow his passion as a full-time painter.
A couple of circumstances make his art practice different from that of countless others who have turned to art on retirement. The first is that painting has been his passion since childhood. Some of Beale's earliest childhood memories are of his father, a competent watercolourist, regularly taking him to art galleries in Brisbane, where they lived. He started his art studies as a child with Betty Churcher, then at the Queensland Technical College with Melville Hayson, Jon Molvig, Roy Churcher and Andrew Sibley in Brisbane. However, he did not become a full-time art school student and instead chose studies at university in history, law and economics and a career in the public service. From his early years, Beale has had a fairly well-developed toolbox of art making techniques within the fairly traditional conventions of academic painting.
The second peculiar circumstance is that Beale contracted polio as a child in 1948 and for much of his life has been confined to a wheelchair. This has meant that virtually all of his work adopts a perspective from a wheelchair and some of his larger canvases (the largest at this exhibition measures 167 centimetres by 127 centimetres) are a physical challenge for him to paint, necessitating the adoption of special aids such as extended length paint brushes that deliver less precise control. He primarily works from small sketches, made on the spot, and from his photographs that then serve as studies and aides-mémoire for the larger compositions.
Beale has exhibited regularly for over 30 years in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Bowral - this time it is a big show with more than 50 works in a large Chinese furniture store in Fyshwick, where his show snakes around the shop and ends up in a dedicated gallery space upstairs. Much of the subject matter stems from his frequent travels in Mediterranean Europe and visits to the artist's favourite beauty spots.
There is little doubt that Beale is committed to his craft and is passionate about his work and his sense of authenticity to the experience of the place is evident throughout the show. His sketchbooks are full of lively, spontaneous and competent drawings of places that he has visited and of people that he has encountered. The large academic paintings, typically featuring a carefully observed flowerpiece in the foreground with a dramatic sky and a scenic view as a backdrop, are competent, but a little dry. The Uplands Lisianthus (2018) largish oil on canvas is possibly the best of the crop with the old, lovingly observed tree behind the flowers echoing a Thomas Gainsborough-like sense of possession and authority. The strength of the picture lies in sensitive treatment of light hinting at the passing seasons and a certain transience of life in contrast to the permanence of the landscape.
For me, the strength of the exhibition lies in the pastel drawings, such as Lake George, morning rain (2018), where the manageable more modest scale permits an intimacy of touch. Many of Beale's finest works could be described as mood paintings set within a romantic sensibility. At their best, they are highly evocative and lyrical and hark back to earlier traditions and conventions in art.
Roger Beale is a dedicated artist whose primary desire is to share his passion for art and for beauty.