Europe 1989

24 Feb

Of all the artforms, graphic arts (including painting and drawing) and dance are the ones I have never considered myself any good at. Blog readers will be spared the sight of me dancing, though Susan Dibble at Shakespeare & Company went a long way to dispelling my belief that I could not dance. Drawing and painting remain the areas about which I am the most insecure. I was told in no uncertain terms in primary school that I could not draw. I was good at maths and reading, and should stick to those. In 1989, I travelled around Western Europe with my girlfriend at the time. We took a fair few photos, but for various reasons I no longer have any of those. All I have as a visual record of that trip, that coming of age ritual of many Aussie youths of our generation, is these twenty paintings and drawings which I did (click on images to enlarge).

Our travels began in December 1988, with a month in Italy and Switzerland. I first picked up some coloured pencils in Vienna in early February, after a memorable trip to Schønbrunn Zoo.


These were the first things I had ever drawn that had any pretensions to realism, that were anything but cartoons or psychedelic designs.

It was another three months – after visiting Germany, the Netherlands, England and Wales – before I picked the pencils up again. It was France in the Spring that inspired me. First Brittany:



Among the Standing Stones of Brittany I experimented with combining paint with pencils:


Then in Gascony, where early summer rains seemed to demand I play with paint washes. This was a view out of our car, a converted British Telecom van, with the open door in the foreground:


Summer and the Iberian peninsula abated my drawing – too many road miles and too much red wine. A campsite in Portugal, white port for breakfast, red for lunch and dinner:


Heading back through Catalonia and the mountain passes of South-eastern France into Italy brought the paints and pencils out again:



While we stayed with my parents in central Italy (who happened to be in Italy, visiting their family), I decided to practice in the time-honoured tradition:


Of all the places in Europe, it was Assisi, home of St Francis, that really moved me to use brush and pencil. This was the second time we had visited Assisi on that trip, the first time having been a brief stop in December 1988. There was to be a third brief visit, in November 1989. But this was a longer sojourn, high Summer in August. Assisi remains for me one of the holiest places I have been, with an air of peace that not even the height of tourist season could tarnish. The mountainside teemed with life, and the spirit of Saints Clare and Francis were palpable. This first is a view of the old castle from the square in front of St Clare’s cathedral:


These next two are in the vicinity of  St Francis’ hermitage, further up Mt Subasio:



This last is of the Monastery itself, built on the site of St Francis’ hermitage:


The end of summer found us in what was then Yugoslavia, a country at that time on the verge of civil war, though we did not know it. It just seemed like the entire country was in a bad mood. Along the coast there was great wealth, every second local car was a Mercedes or BMW. But a mere fifty kilometres inland, people literally lived in cardboard boxes on the sides of steep mountains, and a packet of American Marlboros bought a full tank of fuel. Yet the countryside was stunning, and the rain relentless:



Greece was a time of parties, too much alcohol and octopus, and no drawings. The furthest point East in our travels was Istanbul, where we crossed the Bosp(h)orus and set foot in Asia before heading back West and home. But the mosques commanded my attention. For no good reason, I decided to keep my original ink outline, then make a copy and (partially) colour that:


We returned to Australia in November, having been away almost exactly one year. I made only a few more pictures, soon after our return, in Northcliffe (in the South-western corner of Australia). After that, my routine life began to take over, and I did not make non-verbal marks on paper for some time.



When I began to draw again, it was cartoons. But that’s a story for another time…


9 Responses to “Europe 1989”

  1. James February 24, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I like them. How terrible to be told in primary school that you could not draw! Glad you ignored that comment enough to create the above pieces.

  2. queenmartine February 24, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    oh Rob they make me smile!

  3. nickolasjames February 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    I can’t believe you managed to save and keep these picture for so many years.
    I also do not want any snuggles from snugglebug- I don’t trust that face.

    • robpensalfini February 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      I lose and find them again every few years. If you don’t trust “snugglebug”, wait til you meet Mr Bumtripp…

  4. Matt Gaffney February 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    I always find it interesting which artform people get self conscious about. Be it acting, music, writing or illustrating there is a level of being exposed and vulnerable. Speaking as someone who considered his self an illustrator at one point (during the same time these works were made I might add) I enjoyed these pictures, they told a story and gave me a good sense of who young Rob was when he was on his European adventures

  5. Garethofoz February 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    For someone who apparently cannot draw, these are impressive pieces. And a far better, and more personal, record of your journey than photographs could ever have been. Oddly,
    through another series of odd events, I have no photos of my time on the Continent that summer either, other than a newspaper cutting of what was left of the car in which I was travelling at the time of the road accident that left me in a Bavarian hospital, of which my dodgy shoulder provides more than enough memories. It would be rather nice to have a visual record like yours – butin my case, my art teacher may have been right, and I continue to paint pictures with words instead.

  6. Penny F February 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    How terrible for an educator to tell you you couldn’t draw. Thank you for sharing these, Rob. I particularly love the two of Assisi architecture. And, maybe it’s just the swimming pools, but the Portugal painting looks quite Hockney-esque:)

    Surely these are of more (or at least equal) value to a photo album.

  7. Justin Di Lollo February 24, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    These are unmistakably of your hand, even at a glance! I’m so used to your more casual sketches (be they from Peafowl or my own record of your doodles (“Robert’s Activity Book”) but in all these years, I’d never seen your more detailed work. They’re insightful and inspirational. They make me want to pack up and head for Iberia! Thanks for posting them.

  8. amber March 3, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    If you hear a voice within you [OR FROM A SILLY TEACHER] say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then, by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. — Vincent Van Gogh

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: