I was born in Sydney in 1938. I was fortunate to grow up with encouragement and support for my artistic passions. My grandmother, who lived with us till her 100th year, had been a governess and, ever the teacher, presented me at the age of four with plasticine to sculpt animals and people. My mother, a gifted pianist, who had received art training, taught me drawing and observation. My father was an accurate and talented draughtsman with an engineering background. Both were highly competent (although not professional) artist draughtsmen.
As a child we visited art galleries and museums. The picnic basket always included painting materials. I assumed everyone drew easily and continually. I should have realised that it was a little out of the ordinary, when on a family excursion, drawing stuffed birds at the Australian Museum, the attendant asked us to move on, as in his opinion we had sat there too long!
Back in the ’50s there was much corporate encouragement for young talent. Farmers department store held an annual poster competition, for children of various age groups, to celebrate “Be Kind to Animals Week”. I was a frequent contributor and sometimes prizewinner. The work was displayed in Farmers’ Blaxland Gallery and prizewinners were acknowledged in an official awards function (together with balloons and party fare).
ABC radio had a daily children’s programme, “The Argonauts”, based on the mythology of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece. This was a cultural adventure and each child member was a “fellow rower”. (I was Paros 47.) Well-known professionals in music, literature, science and art presented each programme. “Phidias”, who in private life was Jeffrey Smart, later Bill Salmon and then Robin Norling, presented the art segments. Fellow rowers’ works were discussed on air. This programme stimulated young people to contribute their artwork because it provided valuable feedback: acknowledgement of what was achieved and enticement towards future development. I contributed drawings over many years. Eventually I achieved enough certificates to visit the ABC office in Sydney to meet “Joe” and “Mac” to choose a book reward. A great encouragement, a great adventure!
The Sun-Herald newspaper also offered children a weekly prize along with publication of the winning drawing. The standard seemed very high; an encouragement for serious draughtsmanship.
Sydney in the ’40s and ’50s had few commercial galleries, however both David Jones and Farmers stores had professional art galleries with full time art directors. Many overseas exhibitions were hosted here, enabling me to see my first Van Dyck, Constable and Turner. These works along with the annual excursion to the Archibald Prize exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW were analysed and discussed over the dinner table at home.
The Australian Watercolour institute, of which I later became an invited member, held their annual exhibitions for many years at the Blaxland Gallery. A great inspiration to me!
I greatly admired the paint quality and drawing of the boots and shovel of Julian Ashton’s painting The Prospector at the Art Gallery of NSW. Being very young I was only tall enough to see the lower part of this painting. (Perhaps this began my fascination with old boots?)
There was no television then, of course, but the public library in Macquarie Street was a favoured destination. There we could view the limited art books that were available.
At fifteen years of age, much to the annoyance of my school headmistress, I left school and began five years of full time art study (30 hours a week, 36 weeks a year) at the National Art School in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney. My family thought that I should take advantage of my youthful enthusiasm, talent and imagination. In my opinion children today commence art study far too late. (Art, for children now seems to be some kind of “anyone can do it” therapy, not the first steps towards the traditional disciplines known by Michelangelo and Rembrandt.) In the diploma course I was taught by many talented artist/teachers but especially I remember Jimmy and Alfred Cook, Arthur Freeman, Bob Gunter, Peter Laverty and Tom Thompson, all excellent traditional draughtsmen. They taught not only pictorial observation but also, what transformations must ensue in the act of composition; or, the essential “what to do with it all”. I also learnt much from a highly regarded colleague, Liz Blaxland, who continued to be a tough critic of my work until her recent death at 93 years.
Fellow students also sparked off each other and of special mention were the talented Brian Dunlop, John Montefiore, Margaret Woodward and Robin Norling.
How much are my works due to genetic inheritance or cultural climate (nature versus nurture)? The product is here for you to see.
Studied 5-year full-time Diploma of Fine Art, National Art School, Sydney. Specialised in painting and graduated with honours, 1958. Teaching Qualifications: followed a career as an art educator and administrator in charge of TAFE Fine Arts School, concurrent with career as practising and exhibiting artist. Member of the Australian Watercolour Institute. Regular exhibitor with the AWI in Sydney and various overseas venues. Overseas study: art galleries and art schools, UK and Europe, 1972/1992/1995.
Awards: Robert Le Gay Brereton Prize for Draughtsmanship (student award), 1957. Portia Geach Prize for Portrait Painting, 1976. Margaret Fesq Prize for Portrait Painting (RAS award), 1983. Various municipal art awards.
Exhibitions: Wynne Prize finalist 1995, Archibald Prize finalist 1996, 1997. One- or two-person exhibitions: Artarmon Gallery, Woolloomooloo Gallery, Taree Municipal Gallery
Collections: Works in various private collections, including commissioned portraits in Grafton Municipal Gallery, MLC school, Ravenswood College, Royal Agricultural Society, Mitchell Library Sydney, Reserve Bank, Sydney, Eryldene Trust, Gordon.
Guest lecturer, demonstrator, judge for art societies, universities, schools of art and Art Gallery of NSW. Presently full-time artist/painter and director of the Patonga Bakehouse Gallery.