by Dick Millott
Today I can't walk past the kitchen vestibule. There's a painting on the easel - full of promise - but in reality it's a complete dog's breakfast. Sky's all wrong - wrong blue - composition is fine but it's destined for a full coat of white. Or Burnt Umber. What a bloody disappointment! Took me hours too! Two other canvasses sit behind it - which have also been destined to the rejection of my personal drafting yard and are ordained for the swinging gate marked - 'Reject'.
So to get over this - I went and had a sit. If you get my drift. Smallest room. Which is a good place to reflect on life's disappointments. You see - wherever I go in my home - I have piles of reading material, and in my bathroom - which it must be emphasised is not connected in any way with my wife's bathroom at her gentle insistence - there is a Depression-era cupboard full to overflowing - within reaching distance - with the last 20 years of Australian Artist, American Artists and a couple of other periodicals, all dog eared and much read. Within those pages is every significant Australian and American artist of the last 30 years. And boy do I love the talent of some of these people who make this whole process look so easy.
(I should emphasize at this point, apropos of nothing, as I sense several of our female readers going Yeeew! - that my wife is the cleaning products and exfoliation queen. She has hospital grade disinfectants and cleansers and lathery stuff that could render a leprous island entirely DNA free within a week. She visits my bathroom twice a week and you can hear the sounds of things being scrubbed and sprayed and lathered - and turned blue - with anti-germ products so fierce, that their fumes alone can lift the paint off a wall. So I basically live in a microbe free environment. My piles of art books on every flat surface beside my bed, my ablutions compound and my desk all drive her nuts of course - but a man who is reading is not on the streets is he.)
One thing that astounds me is just how many really good artists abound among us. I grade a painting by simply applying the litmus test of whether I would hang it on my wall. If it's good enough to hang on my wall - then it must be good. Enough? And I also wonder - with the galleries of stuff being painted everyday by the likes of most of you - and a million other artists - how we manage to make a quid out of it. I mean by that - that art multiplies. If it's good art, it endures - people don't throw it away. A good painting goes on to become an old painting. And with each generation comes another plethora of new 'good' paintings. Which begs the question - what happens to the old paintings? Sure museums may take the best of them (and sometimes the worst) but what eventually happens to all this stuff that you lot are all churning out day after day? Surely, by this stage, the Nation's walls are groaning under their collective weight.
Well I can tell you about one of my favourite paintings. A massive nude - done by one of Australia's best young artists - a woman who has a PhD in art for Pete's sakes - and who is an 'artist in residence' at one of the nation's leading universitaria. A breeding place for future Socialists but also artistic brilliance. This lady is a little odd, in that she used to only paint herself. But boy did she paint herself well! She is celebrated and now is officially represented. Destined for greatness in other parts of the globe.
I was on my way to buy a property in Hobart one day - years ago - and my accountant type - a fellow who worked for me who controlled my small business's purse-strings (wise), had given me one blank cheque with which to pay the deposit on what was once part of an old Victorian era girl's school complex. On the way to meet the agent in my hire car - I saw something out the corner of my eye that caused me to push the brake pedal through the firewall and do a U-turn. And there in a gallery window were two paintings of a nude sitting in those blue plastic blow-up chairs - superlatively rendered in oils. An almost photo-realistic diptych of sorts beckoning to me on that cold, damp, Hobartian morning. Two square metres of sweat and tears and soul searching by a student artist painted while on scholarship in Paris. So I rushed in and bought them without a whimper with the real estate agent's blank cheque. (I bought the property as well - but with a handshake and a solemn promise to pay when I got home. The accountant type was not happy. He doesn't like art.)
Anyway I still have those two paintings. But in the intervening years this artist got better. And better. So I bought another of her works for a lot more money - a transcendent 8 foot x 5 foot nude sitting on a stool. A masterful rendering of the human form which left me gasping at its perfection. So what happened to this painting you ask? Well that's another story.
We have this aunt person who used to visit us - who also happened to be particularly religious. Screamingly religious. Screamingly religious people have a way of trying to get you to see the 'light' as it were, whenever they come into contact with you. So having been lectured by my dear little wife on watching my language for the duration of the visit - no mean feat when you are, what’s the word? At times somewhat freestyle in your verbal expressionism - and psyching myself to be particularly observant of ultra correct table manners and not talking with my mouth full - and not talking politics which can bring on a bout of freestyle verbal expressionism - I suddenly realised that this lady - who abhorred everything that there is a commandment written about, was about to come face to face with an 8 foot high nude looking down at her from my home library wall. A wall full of particularly realistic and tangible wobbly bits. It was enough to send her reeling , while clutching her cashmere clad bosom and her leather clad bible, into the next life. But not before giving me a withering look that basically said - 'Get thee behind me Satan!' Which I would have to live with for the remainder of my days.
So I quickly trundled this massive artwork out the back door and into the garage and put several sheets over it. I replaced it with a landscape - doing a quick scan for any random wilful nudism in the foreground almost instinctively. Long story short - every time we had this lady in the home and any others of her ilk - the painting got wheeled out. It got somewhat crazy and to the point where it had done about 2000 miles - and my back was starting to show signs of non-compliance from lugging it about. The stretcher pegs had to be tightened once a month. So I sold it. And now it graces some lucky bugger's wall in a Gold Coast high rise, beachside, paradise pad. How people who recoil from the perfection of a wonderfully drafted nude form get pregnant, is utterly beyond me.
I do have a few 'nice' paintings by various Australian artists. A couple of Kenneth Jacks and one by Julian Ashton's successor. And some brilliant miniature acrylics from a genius in Tassie. So while I always manage to find a slot for some artist's new work - I wonder if you have wondered the same thing. What happens to all the older stuff? Does it just get shuffled into the lesser auction rooms around the nation - to be picked up for a few dollars by people who don't like prints on their walls like me?
I can hold my head up in this respect in that I have always bought 'real' art. I would never entertain a print - even when I was struggling myself and dirt poor, I would always buy the work of young struggling artists. So the struggle is somewhat endemic in my life you see, both as a participant and an appreciator of those who struggle. My fellow strugglers. (Struggle-ees?)
Going by the work on the easel at the moment- I am still bloody struggling! So I have nothing visual to share with you this month if only on the grounds that I don't want you rolling on the carpet in uncontrollable hysterics. You artists can be so bloody picky sometimes. And if you aren't, then the people who judge your work are. But the promise remains that it will come - it just takes time. And sweat. And tears.
Till next time. Keep your brush wet and your stick on the ice.