Secret Yarning - Robbi Neal

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Secret Yarning Robbi Neal Solo

20 Jun – 20 Jul 2022

Online Exhibition

For a high resolution, downloadable, PDF version of this catalogue, with pricing, please send us an email to Thank you.

c o n t e m p o r a r y

f i n e

a u s t r a l i a n

a r t

Robbi Neal in front of a painting in her studio I © Indea Leslie

Foreword to ‘Secret Yarning’ When I first met Robbi, around 2013, it was hard to get her to talk much unless it was about the artists she was helping nurture within her role as an art coordinator in a remote indigenous community. There was a quiet steeliness about her persona, one which could have been easily mistaken for coldness or arrogance but which, in reality, was founded in shyness and a deep desire to help and encourage others. She introduced me to the magical works of Irene Namok and what was to become a very long, and current, association with the wonderful Naomi Hobson. Robbi’s considered and non-invasive approach to mentoring the artists she worked with, created a lasting and profound legacy, long after she left her role. At the time I wasn’t even aware of her own artistic talents, neither her writing nor her painting. When, by chance, I came across her paintings at a gallery in Sydney our friendship rekindled and my admiration for her artistic potential was truly ignited. Robbi remained almost dismissive of her work, unable to really register a compliment and take the spotlight. Despite significant success and acclaim as a prize-winning writer, Robbi remained a reluctant recipient of any praise. Our rekindled friendship led to discussions, very heavily encouraged by me, as to how we could work together. It was a slow, painfully slow, process interrupted by many factors, not least of which COVID, but we remained united in this goal.

Robbi painted, repainted, doubted and repainted… I tried to encourage, as best I could. Her work started to evolve, though in truth I had always loved it right from the start. However, something had stirred and almost without realising we had a body of work which was breath-taking. Robbi remains a reluctant artist, praise is not something she accepts easily, not because she isn’t worthy of it, its just not in her core essence, it’s just not Robbi. That said, Robbi knows how to paint minimal abstraction, extremely confidently, with colourful abandonment. Of that, I am sure we can all agree upon there is little doubt. I guess it’s refreshing somewhat, in a world where self-praise reigns supreme, that Robbi allows her writing and her art to speak for itself. Secret Yarning is indeed a secret, a huge joyous one of the talents of a very special, very shy but very determined modern-day artist. One which I am extremely honoured to call a friend and one I am happy to present to you all in this exciting body of new works on linen and paper.

Giorgio Pilla Director ReDot Fine Art Gallery

Panoramic view of Robbi’s studio I © Indea Leslie

Robbi Neal preparing paint in her studio I © Indea Leslie

Introduction I love this new artwork by Robbi Neal! I have known Robbi for many years and watched as she has given so much to other artists and to their professional development without keeping back any of her own wonderful ideas. She has generously shared her inspiration, techniques and skills. So many of these artists have excelled under her guidance and are high profiled artists through her commitment, generosity and mentoring. I am so glad that now, at last, we are seeing Robbi’s own work, her own true talents shine in her ReDot Fine Art Gallery exhibition. In her work, we get to see her wonderful sense of colour, and we are invited into the world of her ‘secret yarning’ and we get to share in her portrayal of her many stories. It is an honour for us all.

Jenuarrie Author of ‘Gift of Knowledge’ the Selected Works of Jenuarrie ‘Koinjmal Woman’ First Nations Elder and Cultural Consultant

Artist’s Statement I was raised mainly by my very strictly religious grandparents. Wearing make-up, alcohol, cigarettes and dancing were forbidden. So was reading non-religious books cooking, watching tv, going to the shops or visiting friends (unless they were elderly or ill) on Sundays. As a girl I was raised to have no role other than to be “a man’s helpmeet” to help my husband in whatever he chose to do but to have no career for myself. The reason I lived with my grandparents was because my father could be very violent and my mother had mental health issues. Both my parents were furious when I applied for and got into the Victorian College of the Arts to study Fine Art, majoring in painting. My mother said I would start “dressing like an artist” and my father, eager to pounce on any excuse for violence joined in. But the real reason for their anger was that they believed any tertiary education was wasted on a girl. I don’t think my lecturers understood the pressure I was under to give up art and my studies. It was intense. My parents refused to give me any support of any kind. I felt very alone because most of the art students were private school kids getting support from their parents. I couldn’t relate to them and they thought I was plain weird. I was separated from others by my experiences of rigid religion, violence, mental health. An outsider watching others live life. It was sometimes numbingly painful. By now my grandfather had died and my grandmother was living with an aunt. I was at home with my parents but home became too dangerous to stay so, at 17, I left. I got up at 5am every morning and worked six hours as a cleaner to buy food and pay rent and then went to art school until 7 at night and I got into trouble there for not coming in earlier in the morning. So, I was in trouble everywhere. Whilst still at art school I married, I was very young and I became pregnant within the first year of marriage. My lecturers were horrified but my parents were thrilled. But they weren’t thrilled for long because I then told them I was going to continue my studies with the baby in tow. On leaving art school I won the Footscray Acquisition Prize and exhibited but with more children my art career became sporadic. I divorced, re-married and had two more children. My husband and I created ceramics and sold them worldwide (they are now collector pieces) and then I got cancer. I was told I had three months to live. So, I wrote a book for my children who, if I died would be too young to remember me. This book was a winner of the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Award. And that started my writing career (my fourth book, The Secret World of Connie Starr has just been released). But with five children I needed to work and so I took jobs in Arts management. But the whole time I was working I felt like my soul was shrivelling. I loved raising my children but there wasn’t one day when I couldn’t do my art that I didn’t think about my art and yearn for it. In 2019 with my youngest child now at university I set up a studio under our carport. I painted every single day determined to make up for lost time. In 2020 I was short listed in the Lethbridge Small

Scale Art Award and in 2021 I was a finalist in the Blake Prize and the Lethbridge and in 2022 a finalist in the Ravenswood Prize for Women Artists and the Lethbridge. I sent Giorgio images of my work. I probably drove him mad. My paintings are landscapes, often inspired by our small garden. I sit there in the evening with friends and family, drinking gin martini. The children play and I congratulate myself on growing such a lovely garden when really the plants grow despite my neglect. But my painting happens at an intuitive, emotional level. I often don’t know what a painting or a book is really about until its completed and even then, it sometimes takes me some time to realise what was driving the work. Whilst my paintings have colour and references to plants and little critters and skies they are filled more with references to people we love, family, friends, belonging. To times we forget and moments we might miss. My heritage also informs my artwork. My grandfather was a Jewish convert to Christianity, my other grandfather was Scottish and my family oral history is that my grandmother was indigenous. I have all these oppressed heritages coursing through me and I hear my grandmothers calling to me in my work as I stand on their Country, it’s what grounds me. All my paintings come from within me, from my journey. Whilst I learned to live with my experiences as a child and teenager and have forged my own path as an adult; there are days when I struggle to hold my head above water and the only way I do is by focussing on the small, good things in life, those tiny things that seem insignificant and easy to miss but which are in fact the very things that make life worth living and fill life with significance. This is the gift I try to give others through my painting because it is what has saved me.

“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” Henri Nouwen

Robbi Neal in front of a painting in her studio I © Indea Leslie


Robbi NEAL Letter to Life Oil and Acrylic on Linen 200 x 200cm RN080322L


This work is a letter about life and its meandering, twisting entwined paths that makes us feel like we are going nowhere when really we are going everywhere. It is about the small things that really matter and our belonging to each other.

Robbi NEAL When We’re All Together Oil and Acrylic on Linen 200 x 200cm RN200222L


When all our family and friends get together its noisy. The children laugh and play. We tell our stories to each other and those stories and the meandering paths we take in life that intertwine, bind us together.

Robbi NEAL Things Like Happiness Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 200cm RN021221L


I struggle with depression and in those times I look for the little things in life that are good, the things I may be missing because they are small and when I find them it’s like the clouds move away and the sun shines on the garden.

Robbi NEAL When Life is Good Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 200cm RN170122L


The moments when life is good make all the dark moments fade into the distance. I try to remember those moments and when I do life feels so much more wonderful.

“Neal finds intrigue and beauty in everyday life.” Emma Harcourt Reviewer for The Australian

Robbi NEAL The Days are Just Beautiful Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 200cm RN250222L


It was February. Even though it was Summer the days were sweet like Autumn. Everything was basking in the warm sun.

Robbi NEAL The Winter Garden Oil and Acrylic on Linen 105 x 200cm RN290422L


I love Winter, I love drinking hot tea and mulled wine and rugging up warm. I love when it snows and I love the garden in winter when frost covers the ground in the mornings and when it melts the way the greens are the greenest they ever are.

Robbi NEAL Crimson Like Love Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 137 x 137cm RN020921C


Love is crimson and crimson is such a great colour.

Robbi NEAL Finding a Song Oil and Acrylic on Linen 137 x 137cm RN071121L


It’s so important to sing a gentle song to yourself, to believe in yourself and have hope even when life is hard.

Robbi NEAL The Days We’ve Had Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 137 x 137cm RN090921C


I’ve been married for twenty-seven years and some of the days we’ve had together have been like frolicking in a blue field.

“I paint in the same way I write. I start with a beginning and have no idea of what the end will be or how I will get there. Each work is a journey. It’s a process of discovery.” Robbi Neal

Robbi NEAL It’s A Pink Day Oil and Acrylic on Canvas 137 x 137cm RN091021C


It was October and the sun was pushing through the last of winter and starting to get warmth to it and the pink seaside daisies were just breaking.

Robbi NEAL These Days Like Those Oil and Acrylic on Linen 137 x 137cm RN150222L


I was thinking about the gentle kind days that come and go and come again. Tenderness is a beautiful thing. We should all try to be tender with each other. When life is bad I try to remember that those gentle times are just around the corner. I focus on remembering the gentle times I’ve had until I see them again.

Robbi NEAL Calling You Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 150cm RN051221L


Life is so much better when we share the good things and good times with others. I am sometimes filled with a longing to sing out the beautiful moments I’ve shared with other, to remind ourselves of them and to rekindle them.

Robbi NEAL Between Summer and Winter Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 150cm RN180222L


Just after Summer the earth is ochre, the warmth of the sun is just perfect and shines golden and yellow, the gardens are waiting for autumn rain. Everything feels kind and soft and gentle.

Robbi NEAL When Snow Falls Like Peace Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 150cm RN241121L


It snows in Ballarat, not much, just enough to be truly beautiful. The garden had a fine blanket of white. The world completely stopped and peace descended. It’s a lovely thing to stand in the stillness when snow begins and to feel like part of the earth.

Robbi NEAL You are Joy and More Joy Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 150cm RN291121L


The little children in our family run through the garden finding secrets and their noise brings out the flowers.

“When I’m not painting or writing I feel like my soul is shrivelling. I just have to do it. I don’t feel like I have a choice. I loved raising my children but there wasn’t one day when I couldn’t do my art that I didn’t think about my art and yearn for it.” Robbi Neal

Robbi NEAL Portrait of A Garden Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 150cm RN240222L


Beautiful overgrown gardens are so wonderful and full of secrets shared. I like to sit in the evening and congratulate myself on my garden when really. It has grown despite my neglect.

Robbi NEAL At the Gardens With You Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 100cm RN080921L


It was a garden festival and the little children ran and hid in the flowers, and ran up the paths laughing and it made the gardens sing with life.

Robbi NEAL That Blissful Path to You Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 100cm RN081121L


The paths we take in life that lead us to meeting and connecting with others, with our friends and family are surprisingly blissful as though filled with rosebuds.

Robbi NEAL By The Water Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 100cm RN191121L


I had been to Lake Wendouree. It’s only a few minutes away. At Lake Wendouree the little children run along the paths and in and out of the flower beds. It’s beautiful.

Robbi NEAL Sing It Oil and Acrylic on Linen 100 x 100cm RN310322L


Once I shared a bottle of Tequila with my sweet motherin-law and we sang our way through the Baptist Hymnal – neither of us in tune. We were so happy. We drank too much. It’s a wonderful thing to be happy enough to sing, even if you sing out of tune.

Robbi NEAL Fly Away Like Yellow Oil and Acrylic on Linen 61 x 61cm RN260522L


Sometimes I wish I could fly away like yellow petals from my garden that float on the breeze, to places I’ve been, to see once more the things I’ve seen.

Robbi Neal painting in her studio I © Indea Leslie


Robbi NEAL Thinking About Good Things Pastel and Gouache on 300gsm Canson Montval Cold Pressed Acid Free Paper 90 x 120cm RN280222P


When I’m really miserable I try to think about all the good things in my life and so this is about all those good things, its about the people we love and the good times we’ve had together.

Robbi NEAL All That We Need Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN110122P


I am a glass half empty person but when I’m in the depths of feeling like this I look about me and see that really I have all that I need. I have family and friends. I have love and friendship. What more do we need.

Robbi NEAL When I Was With You Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN120122P


I was remembering the times I had with someone I love. They were beautiful gentle times that are passed but live in my heart.

Robbi NEAL Sun Like Yellow Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN130122P


I don’t love those hot days of Australian summers but it was a cool summer and the sun was golden and warm on everyone’s skin.

Robbi NEAL Summer Rain Like Blue Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN140122P


Blue is such a beautiful colour, so peaceful and it goes on forever and is just like summer rain.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Henri Nouwen

Robbi NEAL Thinking About Those Times Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN250122P


We all think back on the good times we’ve had and tuck those memories away in our heart.

Robbi NEAL We Walked Through The Garden Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN280122P


I walk through the garden, the little children skip ahead and make everything brighter and more alive.

Robbi NEAL I Can See You Over There Pastel and Gouache on 638gsm Saunders Waterford 100% Cotton Acid Free Rough Paper 56 x 76cm RN290122P


This is a landscape of the picture in my mind when I see where I am and the roads and houses I have to pass to walk to the homes of those I love.

Robbi NEAL Winter Sun In The Garden Pastel and Gouache on 425gsm Bockingford Cold Pressed Acid Free Paper 56 x 76cm RN100522P


The first frost fell on the garden blanketing it in shimmering white patches and the frost clung on even when the lovely winter sun shone golden through the leaves.

Robbi NEAL That Lovely Busy Time Pastel and Gouache on 380gsm Paper 56 x 76cm RN301121P


It was a quiet time and I was thinking about the times when I feel like I don’t have a spare second and how in those times, when I can’t fit enough in the day because my days are filled with those I love it’s really when I am happiest.

Robbi Neal sitting in her garden I © Indea Leslie

Robbi NEAL Visual Art 1983

Victorian College of the Arts – Bachelor of Fine Art/Painting

Solo Exhibitions 2017 2005 1990 1985

Art Atrium - Sydney, NSW, Australia. Hill Street Gallery – Daylesford, VIC, Australia. Castlemaine Fringe Festival – Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Rhumbarella’s - Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

Group Exhibitions 2014 1988 1983

Tanks - Cairns, QLD, Australia. ROAR - Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Latrobe University Gallery – Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

Awards 2022

2021 2020 1987 1986 1985

Finalist - Lethbridge Small Scale Art Award, Paddington, QLD, Australia. Finalist - Lethbridge Landscape Prize Salon De Refuses, Paddington, QLD, Australia. Finalist - Ravenswood Art Prize for Australian Women Artists, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Finalist - 20,000 Lethbridge Small Scale Art Award, Paddington, QLD, Australia. Finalist - The 66th Blake Prize, Casula, NSW, Australia. Finalist - 20,000 Lethbridge Art Award, Paddington, QLD, Australia. Short Listed - Footscray Acquisition Prize, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Winner - Footscray Acquisition Prize, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Short Listed - Footscray Acquisition Prize, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

Writing 2024 2023

The Pilgrims Daughter (working title) Novel scheduled for publishing The Shifting Shadows (working title) Novel contracted to be published by HarperCollins (Two book deal)

2022 2018

The Secret World of Connie Starr, Novel, contracted to be published by HarperCollins The Art Of Preserving Love, Novel, Published by HarperCollins under the pen name Ada ~ Langton 2014 After Before Time, Novel, Published by HarperCollins Ledig Fellowship, New York, courtesy of Australia Arts Council 2006 Anthology Your Mother Would Be Proud Allen and Unwin Anthology Some Girls Do Allen and Unwin Sunday Best, Memoir Published by HarperCollins 2005 2004-08 Freelance Features Writer 2004 Winner Varuna-HarperCollins Manuscript Award

Get Robbi Neal’s new book here.

REDOT FINE ART GALLERY Tel: +65 8113 5333

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