Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"I have discovered that painting is an excellent form of escape. . I can recommend it." Russell Drysdale

One drawback of having young children at home, much as I love them, is that you don't get to go to Australia -- or anywhere else requiring long flights and extra money. At least not this year. Next best is leafing through Australian Painters of the Twentieth Century by Lou Klepac. Struck by the desolate paintings of Russell Drysdale who wanted to go off to serve in WWII along with his contemporaries, but was rejected due to the lack of sight in one eye. Hard to imagine today, but an army officer told him to "go and paint for your country." He turned his attention to the people who worked on this rather desolate land. Above is Man Reading a Newspaper from 1941.

Makes you think of Dali's Persistence of Memory which appeared ten years earlier, doesn't it? I like the playing with sense of scale, the low viewpoint, the man's elongated form. What are those objects off on the right? I guess they're fallen buildings. The landscape is not one that offers opportunity - the drought had left many in difficult circumstances.

Drysdale had successful exhibitions and achieved notoriety, but also suffered some devastating losses. In 1961 his son committed suicide; two years later his wife ended her life as well. According to Klepac, he managed to regain his stability, continue painting, and remarry several years later. Some years earlier he wrote to a friend about his experience as an artist:

I've never subscribed to the time-honoured role that an artist must subject himself to a ruthless discipline as a student or as a young man discovering the joy and power of self-expression - it is when he becomes an artist, when slowly throu
gh the experiences of his living and his training he becomes confident of himself and what he wants to say and his power to say it, that he must subject himself to discipline. And then one doesn't like that word: rather it is the beginning of a sensitive and very determined power of selection, the selection that places on the table the real gems from the intriguing heap that surrounds them. For an artist is not merely so because he is able to state one thing or another--he is essentially an artist firstly in that he shows an unusual selection and perception in what and how he states it.
page 98, Australian Painters, edited by Klepac)

Case in point - Drysdale's Basketball at Broome - comes out of the much-ignored sub-genre of nuns coaching sports:


  1. OK -- so "the much ignored sub-genre of nuns coaching sports" is hilarious.

    I love Drysdale's comments about perception, and his description of "real gems" among "the intriguing heap," and the artist's ability to select them.

  2. Thanks, Julie, I liked that too. I think the scary part of creating something is thinking that it will somehow have to come out of nothing, when really it's often more like a process of sifting and re-combining until you find something to pursue.

  3. I told my writing coach that I was fearful of writing fiction because I can't make up stories and he said, shocked, "You don't make up stories! You write what's in your head!"