In 1951 Russell Drysdale spent a number of months travelling throughout northern Queensland and the Cape York Peninsula. In response to this trip he painted Boy running, Cooktown. This painting combines a number of characteristic Drysdale motifs: a long street leading to a vanishing point on the horizon, a building with veranda in profile and a dramatic sky balanced by a vast foreground.
There is an inherent drama in this image of a young Indigenous boy running across the street, his action rupturing the stillness of the picture. Drysdale depicts the boy in dynamic movement, yet he seems suspended in time and space. His activity in the isolated street begs the question: where is he running?
In his paintings of Australia’s remote towns and settlements Drysdale conveyed a sense of life lived in connection with the land. He explored the spatial, environmental and personal elements that contribute to our experience of place. As in so many of Australia’s remote country towns, the main street in this painting includes the iconic structure of a war memorial. In contrast to the youthful potential of the boy, the memorial is a reminder of history and the loss of many young Australians in wartime.