A light touch

HAVING painted for more than 60 years, you could forgive Spearwood artist George Haynes for packing away the brushes altogether, but the 85-year-old “master of light” still has a twinkle in his eye and paints everyday.

In fact he’s busy preparing for his latest exhibition In Search of Painting, a sort of career retrospective featuring old and new works.

Known as a ‘master of light’, Haynes imbues his paintings of WA landscapes and everyday life with beautiful swathes of colour and delicate shadows.

• Pilbara dusk

His work is reminiscent of the vibrant colours employed by David Hockney in the 1960s, but with a more dreamy, soft-focus touch.

Born in Kenya, the son of a doctor, as a kid Haynes would sketch to pass the time in remote regions of Africa, before going on to study at Chelsea School of Art and then moving to WA in 1962.

“On arriving in WA, one was so struck by the light that you had to do something about it,” he says

“Having been painting in London – grey old London – yeah, it was a blast.”

• Cue

Over the years, Haynes has drawn on the old masters like Caravaggio and Georges de la Tour, who popularised the use of chiaroscuro (light and shade) in their paintings.

“Very powerful lighting, you know, and the same with la Tour,” Haynes says. “It makes for nice things in the shadows and so on. But, you know, another great favourite of mine is the Dutch painter, Gerard Ter Borch, and he has a thing about material and it’s just fantastic. You know, I rate him very highly in the Dutch school.”

Following some recent health problems including a heart scare, Haynes admits to slowing down and not getting out and about as much. But he still paints in his home studio in Spearwood every day, taking inspiration from his lush back garden, which he has cultivated with his partner and fellow painter Jane Martin.

And he has never lost his touch for creating vibrant and radiant colours.

• Us at Ooloo

“I hammer away at colour. I’ve got a whole rule book about colour you know. I can hardly embark on it!” he says.

“It’s all about complementary colours and compensating for complementary colours with colours of lower chroma.

“So put on the bright red and you put a grey beside it. That zings because it’s just the right lightness, it’s just the right tone. Slightly lighter than the red, you know. That’s a nice trick. All tricks just to occupy eye whilst looking at the painting.”

Over the years, Haynes has dabbled in other mediums, but the ‘golden ratio’ has been a relative constant, popping up in various guises and forms throughout his work.

“Yeah, I get, you know, crazes and the golden mean is very special,” he says. “In one particular painting, the snail shape of the golden mean construction was most intense in the centre so all the complementaries radiated around this scheme – it’s fun to do.”

• George Haynes. photo by Rob Frith

Haynes, father of Fremantle mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge, says mother nature can be fickle and you have to be on your toes when painting en plein air (he was often seen cycling around on his bike with his sandwiches tucked away in his pannier bags).

“Well, painting from the landscape teaches you a lot because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” he says.

“And the other thing about going out in the landscape is that the day changes. So that you have to pretend those trees that are really quite pale at the moment, are going to be silhouetted because that’s finishing up time, four o’clock, three-thirty, something like that. 

“And these little disciplines, you know, and if you make it look like the landscape that’s a bonus – but it will teach you because it’s changing, it’s mutating, giving new ideas.”

As part of the exhibition, Art Collective WA is producing the first ever monograph about George Haynes with over 150 photographs and essays by art critic John McDonald and curator Sally Quin.

In Search of Painting is at the Art Collective WA in Cathedral Square (565 Hay Street) Perth from October 21-November 18.




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