by Dick Millott
So you want to be a painter. Pffft!
So you've been trolling the internet looking for inspiration in your life and you happen across this You Tube thingummy where this bloke - somewhere in Queensland or Northern NSW going by the bright light and the swaying palms, is slopping the acrylics around like a man with eight arms. Not only does he do this with ridiculous ease - but he's standing there with his tanned arms and board shorts and perfect white teeth - (I personally think they're capped) cracking jokes and generally making you lose the will to live. He calls himself a provocateur. He provokes me alright.
When it comes to painting there are two types of people. People like Mark Waller make up the first type of these types of people. Frankly they make me sick. He - (Mark) gets up, has an organic breakfast of champions, eating gluten and pesticide free muesli ground under the feet of specialist hippy types from Nyngan, which he swishes down with freshly squeezed orange juice - hand squeezed on the hips of the girlfriends of the specialist muesli roasters - and then he goes looking for a wave.
When he's done with a hard half day of surfing - something most of us had to give up at nineteen because we had to do something called a job - he rocks up to his studio - puts on another favourite T-shirt, whips out the brushes and his paints, mixes his colours while he looks the other way, and then starts slapping the paint on. Within minutes he has a perfect horizon of tropical sea - so real you could swim in it - and then he starts on belting out a couple of pandanus palms which you can see fluttering in the breeze within about - ooooh - three minutes. Complete with the reflected light bouncing of their branches. He then slaps a bit of foam onto the shore waves - so tangibly that you can see the bubbles bursting, bangs a cloud in and bingo - another three foot canvas hits the studio wall. Thank your mother for the rabbits. Then he goes and plays with his kids who are coming home from school. Mark Waller is what the other type of painters call a bastard. He makes it look so real - you want to jump off a cliff when you realize it isn't.
Well the other type of painter is me. And what Waller does is nothing like what I do. I have been a designer for most of my working life. So I can draw. I can do architectural subject matter quite easily. Architects - who used to be able to draw in days gone past, discovered something called Autocad a decade or two ago, (which is a computer program that kills the artist) and when they did - they gave up the freehand drawing caper. Only trouble was - the earlier CAD Drawings looked dreadful. So they couldn't sell their ideas to their clients as well as they could when they used to be able to draw. So they came to people like me and said, "Whip up an elevation of this for me will you - get the coloured pencils out and give me something that looks pretty". So their loss of skill was my gain.
In 1994 I had a one man exhibition of huge pencil drawings - all of architectural subjects - which measured from three feet wide to twelve feet. One twelve footer took six months to execute and still hangs on my home library wall. I'm keeping it because it reminds me of the pain involved in its creation. The thrill of that exhibition was not in what the public thought or how many I sold - but that I actually finished the bloody thing. For years - better make that decades - I haven't picked up a brush and slopped the paint about. Careers can wreck the perfect ambition.
So I reach middle age. The worst end of middle age where you eat less and your tummy suddenly acquires the profile of an advanced pregnancy and you have gravity problems in keeping the strides aloft and errant hairs start to appear in strange places. ….so I thought - I'm going to paint again. Maybe the old boy can still paint a bit.
So we started combing the art shops. There's no place I'd rather be than an art shop - unless it's an art shop on the Champs-Élysées. I bought paints - bags of them and brushes. None of these scruffy things that Waller uses but fine squirrel haired beauties in their own boxes. I bought canvases and paper and charcoal and palettes. And my dear supportive wife bought me the mother of all easels.
Then came the problem of where we were going to actually do this painting caper. I stalked out the aforementioned library, which is in reality on old converted barn we did up and connected to our home by way of a link building. A lovely room with 18 foot ceilings. Everything a man could want.
But having set up the easel and belted out a couple of student quality pastels I wasn't happy. Not connected you see. A man can't paint if he is disconnected! Which is why old Rubens and Leonardo always had a lady or two sitting about on Miner's couches ready to inspire them the next time they wanted to whip in a naked cherub or a Madonna. “There's nothing like a Rubenesque woman close by to keep that brush arm going”, old Rubens said once when being interviewed by the Amsterdam Herald. Waller meanwhile has Frankie on the camcorder and the missus bringing in banana sundaes and Mango frappes on the hour. She knows that the day he suffers from what I've got - the homestead is going to be swinging on the gate and the kiddies are going to Vinnies for their beachwear with their new foster parents.
Anyway - there I am pastelling and my dear wife is sitting in the lounge room in the other building chuckling at something or other on the Telly and putting a serious dent in a box of Cadbury Roses. Which means I have to keep going over for chats and cups of coffee. Two weeks - nothing to show for it. Not a sausage. A sheet goes over the easel. Then the light was wrong. D idn't matter what I did - the blinking light was crook. Then - bugger me - the chair was no good. “A man can't paint if he's not comfortable!” I said. Then the place was too cold for the fluidity of motion of the brush strokes that I hadn't made as yet.
So I moved off the easel and onto the kitchen table. This means I can talk to my dear wife while she makes dinner on the weekends (she is away all week) and hopefully paint. Here - the light is good, the chair is comfy and the paints are all ready to hand. And you get coffees every fifteen minutes. And today - it being a miserable cold old day outside - I have been looking at a blank piece of handmade cotton paper at the kitchen table. With my brush poised. And my paints all lined up. Six months later!
…..Well slap me to the ground if I haven't started. The jury's still out on whether this one is a winner but I have to say I warming to it by the minute. If it turns out any good - I'll send Waller a pic. Especially as he was the mongrel who got me all re- enthused about this painting caper in the first place.