A Google search of his name reveals that William Augustus Schipp was a renowned explorer and plant collector, who had collected in Java, New Guinea and Northern Australia before spending the years 1929-1935 collecting in British Honduras. After his health suffered from years spent in remote areas under arduous conditions he returned to Australia in 1935. He lived a semi itinerant existence working as a gardener, labourer, prospector, and for a while as Norman Lindsay’s landscape gardener, before moving to the Bathurst district where he spent his last years. His plant specimens are held in major botanical collections around the world, however it is not mentioned that he was also a gifted botanical illustrator and a distinctive naïve painter. Obviously Schipp had used his skills to illustrate his discoveries, however it is not known when Bill, as his friends called him, began painting his colourful outback scenes, the images of the Barrier Reef and ‘floral medallions’.
Naïve art began to be recognised in Australia from the 1930’s onwards, usually by fellow painters such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, John Olsen and Garth Dixon. By the late 1950’s several prestigious galleries in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne were exhibiting the works of naïve artists on an intermittent basis, usually in group shows. For a few like Henri Bastin and Sam Byrne, this opened up significant careers as artists, which led to them winning art prizes and being collected by institutions.
For most, however, it was a fleeting recognition, which soon evaporated leaving the artist with no support structures and, for some, a certain bitterness due to inflated aspirations that the initial recognition had engendered. Gallery A in Sydney exhibited Schipp’s work circa 1964 in a show called Naïve Painters of Australia. Other outstanding naïve painters included in the show were Lorna Chick, Irvine Homer and Matilda Lister. The exhibition was possibly also exhibited at Gallery A’s Melbourne branch. Schipp was also exhibited at the Sydney Royal Easter Show where he won a prize for one of this ‘floral medallions’.
Garth Dixon befriended Bill in Bathurst in the early 1960’s. Garth was an artist and art lecturer at the Bathurst Teachers College who had discovered the classic Outsider artist, Selby Warren, and encouraged others like Matilda Lister. Bill was considered an eccentric by the locals and an oddity by the children. He lived very modestly in one room on a verandah, and was a familiar figure shuffling around town wearing his large Stetson hat and long overcoat with a sugar bag full of tools and specimens over his shoulder. He worked mainly as a gardener, but also visited schools showing children his plant specimens, precious stones, rocks and Indigenous artifacts, and telling them about the wonders of the Australian bush. The subjects of his paintings include meteorite craters, the Barrier Reef, Western Australian landscapes and the historic Lennox bridge in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
Bill Schipp had only minor success in the art world and in this he was like most ‘discovered’ naïve artists who spend much of their working lives under the official art world radar. Apart from the broken dreams of making a living as artists, the tragic downside of this is that with most of these artists a lack of ‘official’ recognition led to their work not being valued by their families and friends who are usually given work by the artists. Eventually, most of this work is either lost or taken to the tip. As late as the early ‘70’s in Tasmania there were accounts of paintings by convict naïve artists William Buelow Gould and T. H. Costantini being given to op shops or thrown away.
When Tony and Sylvia Convey were living in the Mitta valley in North East Victoria in the 1970’s they saw a wonderful old painting being used as a gate by a lady living in Tallangatta. Astonished, they asked her about the picture and whether she would be interested in selling it. She said it was just a piece of old junk and it would stay where it was. Tony and Sylvia suggested that the picture might have some historic value and that it should at least be taken inside and protected from the elements. She laughed scornfully and told them to mind their own business. After her death a year or two later, they asked her son what had happened to the picture and he said, ‘Oh, mum burnt it.’ Sadly, much of Schipp’s oeuvre has also be lost or destroyed.