The Slide 1970 92 X 122cm oil and photo on board

This painting was done for my Higher School Certificate in 1970. I was 17 and attended Nepean High School in Emu Plains, NSW. It was selected by the examiners for the annual exhibition of student works held in Sydney and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, as part of the publicity. It was the closest I ever got to winning an art prize. It was the first of a series of works featuring somewhat proper, self-conscious youths – these days we’d call them nerds – loitering in suburban gardens and deserted parks. But none of the other paintings featured the radical switch in perspective and inclusion of a photograph to the setting. Those were things I think I’d picked up from Pop Art and Brett Whiteley, on top of Surrealism and art cinema. Most of the series were subsequently destroyed. They weren’t exactly autobiographical – although I modelled for the foreground figure – but it was at least a world I knew. Previously I’d concentrated on more mythic, literary and symbolic scenes, inspired by a range of poetic imagists, from the Antipodeans to William Blake, Marc Chagall to Odilon Redon. But at some point these seemed rather distant from my life as a high school student and a bit academic. They were something I could learn technique and composition from, but they were not really from my own experience, not really my own voice. Not that I had much experience, in any case. But by fifth form, I wanted to make quieter, more personal paintings, more in tune, say, with the music of Simon and Garfunkel, rather than the Rolling Stones. But I listened to both and a great deal more.

Similarly, these sorts of paintings were just one side of my artistic efforts. I was trying a whole range of things, influenced by Francis Bacon, British Pop Art, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers, amongst others. I was aware there were new approaches to painting, new attitudes, even if I didn’t exactly have any content on which to use them. A lot of these influences were gathered into a book with a kind of expansive comic-strip narrative that embraced collage, caricature, print icons, Surrealism and Expressionism. The story, such as it is, combines elements of Alice in Wonderland (especially the White Rabbit) with Hamlet, bits of Ned Kelly (via Sydney Nolan) nods to Simon and Garfunkel songs, to Degas, even Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton. These were the formal ideas I carried over to art school. There is a bit of overlap between the suburban schoolboy paintings and the start of art school, but the drastic change in location and circumstances meant that I had to find some new perspective on the world, on which to bring to bear these new ideas about painting. That took a while.

8 Pages from my StoryBook (1969-70)

Page A from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm pen/pencil/paper

Page B from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm pen/pencil/paint/photo/paper

Page C from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm pen/pencil/paint/photo/paper

Page D from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm pen/wash/silkscreen/paper

Page E from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm pen/silkscreen/paper

Page F from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm collage/silkscreen/paper

Page G from StoryBook 1969-70 28X38cm photo/acrylic/paper


SheHeHell 1970-1?  61 X 92cm oil on masonite

This is another suburban schoolboy painting, that I think may have been done around the time I started art school, in Melbourne. It’s badly deteriorated due to my substandard materials back then (mixing house paint with oils) – I’ve softened the worse of some radical pentimenti. The play on the Shell logo strikes me as a rather Godardian touch, so I’m assuming it was done in early 1971 when I first immersed myself in Godard’s work. There was a time when I could tell you which girl’s private school the school uniform belonged to, but it’s a long time ago now. It was painted at home, though. I continued to paint my own little pictures in oils at home, at the same time as I switched to acrylics and pursued a more experimental programme at art school. That seemed to be what art school was for – more technical, research, not nostalgic adolescent stuff. But painting at art school was always very difficult for me – I needed absolute privacy or solitude. Even at high school I’d done all my real work at home, occasionally taking some into school for feedback. At art school there was just too much distraction. It was always nice to talk to other students – otherwise I almost never saw them outside of school because I lived way out in the northern suburbs, on the other side of the town from most. But it did make it hard to concentrate on what I was painting, to really get into a painting. Later I started painting in acrylics at home as well and ended up doing most of my 2nd and 3rd year paintings at home. I’d just bring them into school for finishing touches and pretend I’d done most of the work early in the morning at school before anyone was around. I did try that actually, but that was only good for a couple of hours head-start at best and often it’d take me that long to really get into it. I hadn’t developed the straight walk-up methodical attack I later learned as a commercial scenic artist.

In lieu of more examples of the suburban schoolboy series (there is one I know of, but haven’t tracked it down yet), I include my good friend, Edward Kraa’s contemporary work – Patterns. Eddie’s HSC painting was just as good as mine, but didn’t make the exhibition. It did later win an art prize at Springwood though, judged by Sydney critic and painter James Gleason.

Edward Kraa Patterns 1970 43 X 61cm oil and photo on fabric

The title, significantly, comes from a Simon and Garfunkel song. In terms of teenage style, we were Bookends!

Ed went on to have a successful career in the NSW public service, but along the way continued painting, intermittently.