Queensland artist Joe Furlonger’s practice is informed by his early years in semi-rural Samford, on the north-west outskirts of Brisbane, which profoundly influenced his career as an artist by instilling in him a love of the outdoors. At 17 years of age, he went to work as a deckhand on commercial fishing boats, periodically returning to that ocean-going life over the subsequent 15 years. It was out there — where sea meets land and sky, forming infinite horizons — that Furlonger first learned to think in paint.
Watch: Joe Furlonger’s story
The sea and beach
The sea and beach are recurring themes that feature in Furlonger’s early work. The figures depicted in a series of Bathers (illustrated) are powerful and monumental in the way they inhabit the composition. Furlonger says of the ‘Bathers’ series:
The Bathers paintings are a part of a series that evolved from a more definite return to life drawing to reinvest observation and realism into my painting… I felt I wanted to counter any reductivist processes by going back to drawing where form and subject matter both play a part. So I have chosen my bathers to combine realism with form and with contemporary things — maintaining a dialectic with history through the common subject of the figure.1
Joe Furlonger ‘Bathers’
For his large figurative ‘Bather’ paintings, Furlonger immersed himself in the styles and techniques of Picasso and Matisse, learning from their example and adapting those lessons to his own purpose. The artist is quick to acknowledge them:
I laboured on the Picassoid thing — you are aware of these influences, but there is no use just playing around the perimeters of these things. You may as well just wade in — go through it rather than around it. I was drawn naturally to the major figurative painters so naturally there’s going to be versions of Leger, Picasso and Matisse.2
What makes these figurative works unique is that, despite their impressive size (some roughly two and a half by three metres each), they carry a deep sensitivity to the subject, evolving, Furlonger says, ‘from a more definite return to life drawing to reinvest observation and realism into my painting’.3 Each figure powerfully, monumentally, inhabits their evocative beachscape, with the ever-present sea in the background.
Joe Furlonger ‘Bathers’
Joe Furlonger ‘Beach with lighthouse’
Joe Furlonger ‘Deposition on the beach’
Excerpt text drawn from the QAGOMA exhibition publication Joe Furlonger: Horizons, published with the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation.
1 Joe Furlonger, quoted in ‘Joseph Furlonger: Moët & Chandon Fellow’, Moët & Chandon Australian Art Foundation Travelling
Exhibition 1988 [exhibition booklet], Moët & Chandon Australian Art Foundation, Sydney, 1988, unpaginated.
2 Tracy Cooper, ‘The good ideas are simple’, in Tracy Cooper and Louis Nowra (eds), Joe Furlonger: Survey 1982–1999 [exhibition pamphlet], Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Qld, 1999, unpaginated.
3 Furlonger, in Moët & Chandon Australian Art Foundation Travelling Exhibition 1988 [exhibition booklet].
The limited-edition hardcover publication Joe Furlonger: Horizons is available for purchase from the QAGOMA Store and online.
‘Joe Furlonger: Horizons’ / Gallery 14 and the Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Gallery (Gallery 3), Queensland Art Gallery / 27 August 2022 to 29 January 2023.