Robert J McCaffrey is a Western Australian multi-disciplined artist, designer, and TAFE lecturer, known for his intricate, detailed, and deeply meaningful works that span across a wide range of media – including but not limited to painting, collage, sculpture, textiles, and couture fashion design. Robert currently lives and works in the Wheatbelt region, which has provided a great source of inspiration for his work.
Robert J McCaffrey | Photography: Strange Images
We are thrilled to be hosting Robert’s latest solo exhibition HOMMAGE at Perth Concert Hall. This astonishing exhibition, which stretches across three levels of the Hall, comprises several of Robert’s collections that explore the works of late 19th and early 20th century artists and pay tribute to various confronting events and issues throughout modern history.
The exhibition is free to enter and will be open on weekdays (9am-5pm) for the rest of October and for one night only on Saturday 23 October for HOMMAGE: The Post-Mortem Soirée, which will also be free and open to the public.
We spoke to Robert about his influences and creative processes, his life in the Wheatbelt, and his passions outside of the art world.
HOMMAGE features works of yours that span across a hugely diverse range of media. Which medium is your favourite?
The medium I work in is determined by the concept in whatever discipline I may be working in at the time. Or, the medium may be determined by the best way of expressing whatever subject, topic, or theme I may be working in. No particular medium overrules another, but each has its own expressive quality that may work out to be the best way of executing the work. Hence, I work in a variety of disciplines and use whatever media I can that best suit the work.
Media, though, vary depending on the discipline (be it wet, dry, etc.) and whether the work is on paper, canvas, 3D, or textile. I have no favourite medium and often combine media to achieve a satisfactory outcome. It is all dependent on the concept. Being limited in some of the more intricate pieces, like metal sculpture, I will either get assistance or guidance or work in collaboration with the more experienced and artisans in that field.
Robert J McCaffrey | Photography: Strange Images
Many of the works featured in HOMMAGE are inspired by artists and events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What is it about this period that stands out to you?
The artists I have researched, followed, studied, and become familiar with all have some fantastic skill, ability and creative output that is infinitely stimulating. That may be the architecture, the paintings, the creation of object d’art, or works in multi-disciplines like glass, ceramic, wood, metal, and so forth.
The lives of these creatives are as interesting and as inspiring to me as their works. I immerse myself in their personal stories and the biographical details of their lives, their professional relationships, their pasts, and their influences. For me, my emotional responses are most important for me to maintain interest and stimulus in creating works that, in this exhibition, pay homage to them and the people in their lives.
This exhibition features an enormous number of works! Can you tell us a bit about the oldest and newest pieces that are on display and where we can find them?
The most recent works [#171 – #200, Level 2] are based on the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops) in Vienna and the history of the developing professional relationships between these artists and others throughout Europe. The pieces in the Pink Triangle series [Level 3] are also later works that developed over a period of time in conjunction with the WW and with the Angel series [Level 4] that began in 2019.
The older works [#106 – #107, Level 4] are based on residences in Tasmania. The landscapes on Level 2 began on my move to the Wheatbelt/Kondinin area and have continued ever since. I have been developing these using a variety of media that have changed over the years – from the earthy reds, tangerines, golds, and moons to the more colourful mix of seasonally-inspired pieces using the mixes of ink and acrylic on antique paper and paper-based surfaces stuck to canvas.
Portraits from the Wiener Werkstätte Collection by Robert J McCaffrey
Photography: Dharshini Murugiah
You’ve been living and working in the Wheatbelt region for a while now. How would you describe the Wheatbelt to someone who has never been there before?
The Wheatbelt regions are varied and often considered “same-same” – arid, boring, colourless, and particularly in summer, very unattractive. The agriculturalists and farmers have a difficult existence in relying on nature, on the dry and the wet, and specifically on the availability of water. The seasons are changing and the climate has a massive influence on the seasonal activities, which in recent years has affected crop growth, choice of crop, and pasture use.
As an observer, listener, and someone who lives and works in the regional areas, along with many others who have businesses and/or industries based on rural production or residential custom (which many forget is often the backbone of these towns), it is a complex lifestyle.
Artistically, there is an infinite number of subjects, topics, themes, and elements that drive my own creative process. For example, living on a farm with 360-degree views of newly seeded paddocks, gimlet trees, full dams after good rains and in winter, the lush velvet greens of growing crops, and a full moon that rises above the horizon of black and moves through stages of illumination over a few hours… it is breathtaking. Then, the thunderous roll of a dust storm that you can see moving across the paddocks, lifting the topsoil and just engulfing all in its path… it’s frightening in its power and its devastation.
'White Gums on Koorikin Road' by Robert J McCaffrey
Photography: Strange Images
When you’re not making art, how do you like to spend your time?
When I am not making art, I have responsibilities as an art lecturer to bring to my students the knowledge and experience I have and gain on my travels and in my experiments, research, and studies.
I work in the community as a volunteer on committees that oversee accommodation and areas for independent living for local pensioners and low-income earners. I am involved in other community activities and events and functions, which call for all of us to be part of to make happen.
Other than that, it is a godsend to get home, close the gates, and just spend time in my spaces, and after HOMMAGE I will be able to let go for a short while and concentrate on the vacuuming and making my home liveable again.
Available to view on Levels 2, 3, and 4. All artwork is available to purchase on Level 2 or through the artist via email.