From the boat to the brush

Published on CPL Carla Armenti (author and photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS Ballarat (F155)

War artist Bob McRae with his artwork of a sailor from HMAS Ballarat. (photo: CPL Carla Armenti)
War artist Bob McRae with his artwork of a sailor from HMAS Ballarat.

Artist Bob McRae has spent time onboard HMAS Ballarat in the Middle East to capture the Royal Australian Navy on operations.

War artist Bob McRae sketches a portrait of Squadron Leader Maria Almeida at Australia's Main Operations Base in the Middle East region.

War artist Bob McRae sketches a portrait of Squadron Leader Maria Almeida at Australia's Main Operations Base in the Middle East region.

For almost two weeks, the artist from the NSW South Coast sailed in the Australian warship in the international waters of the northern Arabian Sea, observing the day-to-day work of the Ship’s Company.

The busy period included multiple dhow (an Arab sailing vessel) boardings, replenishment at sea serials and helicopter surveillance operations.

“To get up close and have that perspective allows me to bring so much more detail to my work,” Mr McRae said.

A professional artist for more than 30 years, Mr McRae is an adherent of naturalism, a style of art based on the accurate depiction of detail, which he captures on his sketchpad.

“People ask me how long I spend on a piece. I couldn’t say. I have no idea. I can always draw a figure rapidly,” he said.

Mr McRae will transform his sketches into oil and watercolour paintings on his return to Australia.

Ballarat is part of the Combined Maritime Force, a 33-nation partnership with three principle task forces that promote maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East region.

While Mr McRae was onboard, Ballarat achieved another major drug seizure that brought the total since her arrival in the Middle East last November to more than a tonne of heroin and seven tonnes of hashish.

This was Mr McRae’s second time sailing in the Gulf on a Navy warship. The first was aboard HMAS Arunta in 2008.

Then, he was the first war artist commissioned by the Navy since World War II.

Art from his time with Arunta can be seen at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Ballarat is the 67th rotation of a Navy ship in the region, where the focus is on countering terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation and promoting a safe maritime environment.