Frank Harland is a curious character. His extraordinary impressionistic art demonstrates how sharply but obliquely he sees the land and people around him. Yet he is also reticent, self-effacing, and uncomfortable in social settings. Moreover, he is in every way unsophisticated. His simplicity is, however, an illusion: He is a supremely disciplined artist of profound cultural engagement. He lacks a milieu such as the fine salons and galleries of Europe, but between stints of isolation, he cultivates people of widely varied social backgrounds: tramps on the railroad, families such as Phil Vernon’s, surfers who happen upon his island, whoever crosses paths with him.
Harland is, in fact, so steeped in the everyday world of Southern Queensland that he appears never to enter so alien an institution as an art gallery. He never frames his canvases, and he sends his work, through an agent he appears never to address personally, to Sydney, which during most of the twentieth century was Australia’s closest approximation to an artistic capital.
Elements in the characters of many of Harland’s relatives and acquaintances bring into sharper focus his much more fully developed artistic sense and serve to emphasize how great his sacrifice is. Several, such as his father, the teller of tall tales, have artistic qualities or aspirations. Phil Vernon’s Aunt Roo longs for a life in the theater and, until she attains it, designs her less glamorous existence...
(The entire section is 510 words.)