My father-in-law hosing his celtis trees 1986
Oil on linen, 230 x 187 cm
Ipswich Art Gallery Collection. Acquired with funds donated by the Ipswich Art Gallery Foundation, 2000

Ipswich artist Davida Allen was born in Charleville, Queensland in 1951 and studied art in Brisbane. Betty and Roy Churcher were influential teachers and encouraged Allen to develop what was to become her distinctive expressionistic style. Allen was inspired by Expressionist painters, such as Emil Nolde, and the Fauves, a group of artists led by Henri Matisse whose works were characterised by brilliant color, expressive brushwork and a kind of primitive wildness. These influences are evident in Allen’s use of dark jagged forms, floating figures, truncated limbs and a paint surface so thick in parts that it is almost sculptural. My father-in-law hosing his celtis trees is a portrait of Ipswich doctor John Shera. It won the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1986 but is far removed from formal or traditional portraiture of distinguished figures. In Allen’s portrait, her father-in-law is wearing shorts and is depicted as an old man who appears vulnerable and exposed but glares at the viewer in a confronting manner. Allen describes the process of creating paintings as torturous, as being ‘like giving birth’, and this painting’s surface was actually beaten with branches from John Shera’s garden. Stylistically Allen’s work reflects the painting process and it also reveals the influences of her catholic education and ongoing interest in the grand themes of birth, life and death.