Sam Fullbrook (1922–2004) was an Australian artist who was a winner of the Archibald Prize for portraiture and the Wynne Prize for landscape. He was described as "last of the bushman painters" (a rural art tradition). However Fullbrook was fine art-trained and his sophisticated works are in every State art museum in Australia and international collections.
From 1937 he worked as a timber cutter in Gloucester, New South Wales. He was to serve in the Australian army and work at manual jobs before discovering his bent for art. After the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted with the Australian Infantry Forces in 1940 and the following year was posted in Palestine but did not see active service. In the years 1943 to 1945, he trained in rifles in the Middle East and served in New Guinea.
At this time he found reading and painting through the Army Adult Education program so that after the war, in 1946, he enrolled in the National Gallery School of Victoria in Melbourne under a federal government retraining program. Among his contemporaries in art school were John Brack, Clifton Pugh and Fred Williams. Fullbrook painted his first portrait in Yarraville on the sugar wharf. In 1947 he moved to West Melbourne and began selling his work through the Victorian Artists’ Society.
Fullbrook was to have a constant and wide ranging career as a painter beginning in 1948 with his first joint exhibition at Tye’s Gallery with NGS classmate Tim Nicholl. In the same year his father died and he returned to Sydney, converting his father’s shop into an art studio. To support his painting, Fullbrook went to far North Queensland for the cane-cutting season.
Around this time, sharks and "Bondi virgins" made their first appearance in his works. He returned to Queensland where he befriended James Wieneke of Moreton Gallery and was employed by Richard Morley, founder of the Blake Prize. This is when he discovered a talent for landscapes.
His first solo exhibition was held at the Waterside Workers’ Hall, Sydney in 1952. The same year, he had a second solo show at the Moreton Gallery, Brisbane and received honourable mention in the Archibald Prize for his portrait of his contemporary, potter Bernard Sahm. Fullbrook then travelled west across Australia, setting up a studio in Marble Bar in Western Australia, also working as a miner, cane cutter and stockman.
In 1971, he lost most of his work in a fire at his Brisbane studio, but recovered to continue working in the Darling Downs, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.
He set up studios all over the country and each change in events and environment would prompt a new direction in the works. His main series were the "Darling River series", the "Phoenix" series in Buderim, Queensland, "Circus", "Brisbane River", and "The Shearer" series among others. His oeuvre ranged from biblical themes, horse-racing, aboriginal Australians, Pilbara landscapes to Bondi, wildlife, floral works, and studio nudes.
Artist Robert Jacks said he painted "some of the most beautiful portraits ever painted in Australia." Among them are former Australian Governor-General Sir John Kerr and media entrepreneur Reg Grundy; others include Pat Brown and Bernard Sahm, artists, jockeys and members of the public. The Kerr portrait was submitted to hang in Parliament House but was rejected for being "caricature".
Painting style and themes
Fullbrook's light and airy works were soft figuration bordering on abstraction in high-tone coloured patches but leaving the subject entirely recognisable. Most of his paintings and scenes were about his personal interests and life experiences. He painted in oils and worked in pastels and watercolour as well as exhibiting drawings. Reviewing a 1995 National Gallery of Victoria exhibition, Racing Colors, art critic Robert Nelson described him as:
"A colourist... Fullbrook's forte lies in the difficult balancing of patches of pinks and teal, or striations of lilac and dashes of cadmium green."
Fullbrook won the Archibald Prize in 1974 with the painting Jockey Norman Stephens. He won the Wynne Prize in 1963 with Sandhills on the Darling, and shared the Wynne Prize the following year with Trees in a Landscape showing Jacarandas in a Sydney scene.
Throughout the 1960s to 2001 his works were included in national tours and tours to the U.S. He exhibited in New York in 1989. Fullbrook had solo shows in galleries in every Australian state.
Fullbrook's works are in national and all state museum collections. A prolific artist, he has been collected in every major Australian museum, every state museum and in many city gallery collections, clubs and Universities. He has been collected commercially and privately in Australia, the United States, Canada, China, Japan, the U.K., New Zealand, Europe and Malaysia.
Fullbrook married Janice England in 1966, but his wife suicided the following year. In 1983 he remarried, to American, Mary Jane.
After a lifetime's travelling, Fullbrook decided to live permanently in Brisbane from the mid-60s. He took a property "Crosshill" on the Darling Downs in the 90s. He was an Australia Day Ambassador in 2001.
At his country Victoria property, he kept 20 racehorses and entered them at country race meetings.
1963 Wynne Prize
1964 Wynne Prize (shared with David Strachan)
1966 David Jones Art Prize
1967 H C Richards Memorial Prize for Painting, Townsville Prize
1969 H C Richards Memorial Prize for Painting, L J Harvey Memorial Prize for Drawing
1970 Wholohan Prize
1974 Archibald Prize
for Jockey Norman Stephens