Profile of Bob Booth

PROFILE

Influenced by the work of Cezanne and Rouault, Bob is best described as a figurative, gestural colourist. His considerable versatility is evident in his varied choice of subject matter.

Working with oils and favouring a heavy application of thick paint on the canvas, Bob paints with long brushes capturing light and form with accomplishment and ease. The resulting work demands good lighting and distance to fully appreciate the richness and depth of each painting. Viewing Bob’s works also requires time to look into the painting to see more than immediately meets the eye.

Born in England, Bob trained as an art teacher and later as a priest before moving to Australia in 1989. He developed a love of nature and landscape while in England which was further developed while working as a parish priest in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Many of Bob’s landscape paintings have been inspired by the Pilbara, Murchison and the South West of Western Australia. In the last few years Bob and his wife Hilary have lived on a property in Toodyay, an area which has influenced his recent landscapes.

While training for ordination as an Anglican priest, Bob, encouraged by the Reverend John White’s interest in art, became more aware of painting as an expression of spirituality. At the time he produced a small number of explicitly religious works largely dealing with the death of Christ as the paradoxical vulnerability of God. It had never been his intention to work with exclusively religious motifs, believing that Jesus assumed God was the meaning of everything- common and extraordinary. As Bob says,

It is partly for this reason that Rouault’s work represents something of an ideal for me. Rouault did not need to confine himself to Christian themes.; everything he did was saturated with his spirituality, and because this his work has an integrity which is in itself Christian, challenging the dichotomy between the religious and the secular.”

Since moving to Australia, and especially over the last ten years, Bob has produced a large number of paintings of landscapes, riverscapes, seascapes, still life and portraits which have been shown in exhibitions in Western Australia, the United Kingdom, Jersey and France. In relation to his landscapes Bob says,

“The uncompromising impact of the Australian landscape was a substantial contrast with my previous experience and it demanded an extensive reassessment of my visual language. Many of my recent paintings arise from a passion for the contrast and colour in this area which is breathtaking, and often quite unbelievable.”

Recently he has turned his attention to religious art.

Bob is an accomplished artist who also has a deep understanding of the faith. This combination has produced paintings that speak the faith free of sentimentality and full of theological insight. Bob says of his religious art,

“I would like to avoid traditional symbolism and imagery: to be a response to biblical narratives, poetry and theology in a way that is consistent with the experience of the Church now.”

While the art of the West has its origins in figurative narrative painting it has been very much neglected over the last century or so. One of the reasons for this is an insistence that art should always break new ground, that it be subversive to the status quo. This had led to an exhaustion of the new with each attempt to be more shocking and more confronting. Bob’s recent work has returned to past forms of church art, not by reproducing the old styles but with a new interpretation based on advances in painting over the last hundred years, particularly that of impressionism.

Bob sees that art is intrinsically useless, a view reaffirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in his book. Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love. Bob states that,

“Art is not therapy, a medium for self expression, a vehicle of concepts or a platform genius. It does not earn its place at the heart of humanity because of its usefulness. It is only loved properly when it is loved because it is what it is. When the good of what is being made on the canvas is all that matters, we celebrate the nature of divine creativity and glimpse the useless servants of God”.

Bob acknowledges that imperfections, defects detract little from a painting, adding that “only when the painting is pretending to be something that it is not, that imperfections are a problem.” This moves the painting away from the exactitude of the camera and allows it to become more alive and human with great depth and movement. It is these “few mistakes” which demand the imagination of the viewer and result in a prolonged engagement with the work.

This is summed up in a poem by Rev John White, Canon of Windsor for Bob’s exhibition at the Gallery in Cork St, London in 2001.

Could it be that,

God

Extended an outstretched arm,

With elongated index finger,

Towards the pure palette

Of primeval mud,

And with a hooked tip

Scooped up a viscous mess

To smear on the

Canvas of the Globe.

So, half by chance

And half by design,

Earth’s artistry was born.