‘Room with a visitor’: A poster for social distancing


In welcoming visitors back to the Gallery, we’ve assembled a group of large-scale works of art at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) that reflect on the easing of an unprecedented period of social restrictions.

One such work is Australian artist Brian Dunlop’s Room with a visitor, though painted in the 1970s it could act as a poster for social distancing today. Dunlop has carefully painted a scene from his studio, with both people and objects frozen as if in a still life. A bright yellow light streams in through the window and warms the room, seeming to herald the end of this self-induced silence.

Brian Dunlop, Australia 1938-2009 / Room with a visitor 1979 / Oil on canvas / Four panels: 183 x 421cm (overall) / Purchased 1980 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

The characteristically clear light of Dunlop’s paintings — one of the most impressive aspects of the Sydney artist’s technique — is particularly notable in the meticulously composed interior, Room with a visitor. The glow of warm sunlight creates a subtle aura around the figures and objects. A curtain hangs on an unmoving breeze and figures sit suspended in time. The implied communication between the two women across a vast space unifies the composition and creates a sense of mystery.

The care with which objects and figures are placed is typical of Dunlop’s work and can give the impression of symbolic significance. The painting is on four panels, it shows four onions, four strawberries and four pears arranged on the two tables, and there are four paintings (all works by Dunlop) on the right-hand wall.

SIGN UP NOW: Be the first to know. Subscribe to QAGOMA Blog for the latest announcements, acquisitions, and behind-the-scenes features.

This repeated use of an even number emphasises the prevailing binary structure and symmetry of the composition, dominated by two figures on opposite sides of an exceptionally wide picture. The symmetry is most precise in the arrangement of the two-part folding screen in the centre of the painting, and an abstract composition has been produced by locating the central fold of the blank screen on the join between the two main canvases comprising the work.

Referring to the painting’s quiet stillness, Dunlop said in 1990:

I wish I had called this painting ‘Room with a messenger’ because it could be an Annunciation… What amazed me when working on it was that so many aspects of the composition came in fours… It was not deliberate.

Know Brisbane through the Collection / Read more about the Australian Collection / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

Featured image: Brian Dunlop Room with a visitor 1979

#BrianDunlop #QAGOMA