Australia 1927 – Australia 1982
Beachscape, Erith Island II
oil on four canvases
A 40.5 (h) x 203.4 (w) cm
Tate, London Presented by the artist's estate 2006
© estate of Fred Williams
Fred Williams and the artist Clifton Pugh visited Erith Island in Bass Strait in March of 1974 at the invitation of historians, Stephen Murray-Smith and Ian Turner. Williams produced a number of striking works inspired by the distinctive topography of Erith Island. Beachscape, Erith Island II is a major studio oil based in part on studies made in situ from the cliff-top vantage point of their hut. Here radiant colour is combined with expressive gesture. He used an assortment of blues and purples to indicate the water’s varied depth, and contrasted this with the luminous yellow sand.
Here Williams continued to explore the aesthetic potential of multiple separate panels; a radical innovation that he adopted in Sorrento beachcape II five years earlier. With this format he suggests the creation, and recreation, of various ‘temporary landscapes’ in between the tidal movements. He hints at a human presence with trails of footprints in each panel as though wiped clean by the tide between painting one strip and the next. A tiny crucifix in the second panel from the top pays homage to a cabin boy lost at sea and the many shipwrecks in the waters of Bass Strait since the earliest voyages of discovery.