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Shelley Hansen - Lady of Lines

Sir Hans Heysen - Australian Artist

3rd Prize - 2013 Queensland Written Bush Poetry Championship

Among the early artists of this country, Hans Heysen (1877-1968) was the first to truly understand and capture the brilliance of the Australian landscape - so different from the soft tones of Europe.

Equally at home with oils, watercolours and sketches, his portraiture of gum trees and representation of the clear Australian light is masterly. On a visit to his residence and gallery in Hahndorf, South Australia, I gained even more appreciation of his genius with the opportunity to view many original paintings at close range.

How did he sum up his work? "I paint what I see", he said.

Master of Light

Young boy who saw the beauty in the grass
and with his paintbox captured each fine strand -
with patrons' kind support it came to pass
that he was sent to Europe to expand
his knowledge of the principles of art,
to learn what expert teachers might impart.

Returning to Australia once more,
he turned his gaze to well-remembered skies;
when something he had not observed before
impacted him and opened up his eyes.
Quite suddenly he knew this would define
the path to which his future would align.

In northern lands he'd painted muted shades
that soothed the senses with their gentle hue.
But in this southern land, where light parades
in carnival beneath a tent of blue,
he knew he had to change the old technique
and with a joyous voice, its splendour speak.

He left the city, chose to make his home
in Hahndorf in the Hills of Adelaide.
Observing sheep and cattle he would roam,
and watch the village workers at their trade.
Through happy days with Sallie, his young wife,
his canvas wove the tapestry of life.

The toiling farmer with his horse and plough,
the drover's progress down a sunlit vale,
the sudden storm that crests the hillside's brow,
his daughters as they read a fairytale,
the beauty of his garden's rosy bloom,
and Sallie in her breezy sewing room.

The shafting rays of golden summer morn,
the shimmer-heat of noon's transparent haze,
the slant of sinking sun from which is born
the trumpet blast of red that ends the days
unfolded from his palette that he might
encapsulate the spirit of the light.

The eucalyptus trees became his friends.
A conservationist before his time,
he feared that men would never make amends
for these majestic gums, felled in their prime.
Indelibly his brush impressed its mark
and painted portraits of their craggy bark.

The ugly face of prejudice arose
within the darkened days of World War One.
His German heritage brought to a close
the exhibitions he had just begun.
Preserving silence, he believed he must
allow his work to speak against mistrust.

No stranger to the ravages of grief -
his wife's grave illness clouded his clear eyes,
and when his daughter died, he sought relief
by camping under Flinders Ranges skies,
allowing this wide landscape to reveal
its gift of peace to help his spirit heal.

Translucent watercolour, vibrant oil,
and living sketches capture and retain
a snapshot of simplicity and toil
of times gone by that will not come again.
In quietude he lived his many years,
in dignity he earned respect of peers.

Remembered as a master of the light -
outstanding draftsmanship set him apart.
He elevated artwork to a height
not seen before, as with an honest heart
he simply painted what he saw - and thus
created an inheritance ... for us!

(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

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