Sydney sketching : C is for Camperdown NSW 2050

September 16, 2011

Graphite pencil, Reeves gouache; Spring, mid-September, sunny, 9.30am.

I counted sixteen flowering Gymea Lilies outside the “new” extension to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital: massive stems of at least 4 or 5 metres, with thin leaves angling back towards the ground and big frothy red heads on them, at least 30 or 40cm across. Normally the only place to see them is in the wild, in national parks, but I understand there has been something of a campaign of late to save them from extinction by using them around government buildings. Unfortunately the only really good view of them was from the benches used by the smokers and one thing I’ve discovered for myself is that they hyper-concentration required for sketching doesn’t go at all with passive smoking. I wandered around the hospital to take in some of the 19th-century facades facing Missenden Road, but every available position was taken up by smokers; morning creates lots of gloomy shadows as well.

Today’s two sketches were an interesting progression from those of two days ago where I “swam” with where my eye wandered, darting in every direction. Perhaps less fired up with caffeine today, my sketching was very much slower. The increased direct sunlight (and the absence of vegetation) allowed me to linger on geometric shapes which slowly built up, puzzle-like, across the page.  

Because these two are on small pages of very smooth 200gsm paper, I’ve gone over the outdoor one with pen – colour and shadows are recalled from memory afterwards. I preferred the chalky quality of gouache to watercolour to convey the sense of solid architecture. The addition of pen and colour was so radical and I lost so much of the on-site spontaneity, I left the indoors one alone. Contemporary architecture, both inside and out, is invariably beige-and-charcoal, so there was no great scope for using vibrant colour. The lack of vegetation also means lots of straight lines!

Of special interest is the fact that the Page Building  at RPA is no more. It was a forbiddingly large building, fairly non-descript (neither Heritage nor Brutalist)  in pale brown brick and long lines of white painted concrete. With its demise go personal memories of nurses neglecting and physically harming patients, of interns accidentally doubling medical doses specified by specialist doctors, of family members having to dress patients and make beds. What a nightmare RPA was ten years ago! At the moment, there’s a direct view from RPA across Missenden Road to the sandstone spire of the church at Camperdown, something which will be lost by any building replacing Page.

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