In Vino Veritas

Episode 8

A year of working in the theatre was drawing to a close. It was time to move on and go and see, for real, the artworks that I had been studying. Theatre life had been good, not only the painting, but also doing behind the scenes drawings of touring dance companies, the Russians in particular.

Working on a pantomime was great fun and was to have later repercussions. This one was all about the sea, with submerged wrecks, sea creatures, all manner of sailing ships and, of course, lighthouses.
Some things still stay with me.

1. How to get a dead level horizontal line running across 10 metres of stretched canvas.
I bet Raphael and his mates did this in Renaissance times. Simply attach a cord to the correct height at either end, ‘chalk’ and tension said cord. Stand in the middle, pull the cord back like a bowstring and let it go. SNAP! There is your line.
2. Painting scrims was also fun. This involved painting on an open weaved fabric (difficult), but when completed, if it was lit from the front it could be a brick wall, lit from the back it virtually disappeared.
3. My last theatre experience. This was at a different theatre and consisted of a one- man show of the most withering satire on Australian life. This guy was stunning, a class act. His name? Barry Humphries.

OK. How to get to Europe? The Boeing 707 was well and truly around by now, but pricey. The next cab off the rank was the good ship Ellinis. If one thumbs through the current crop of cruise liners, at jaw dropping prices, it might be tempting to put the Ellenis in this class. Not quite. Somebody less charitable than me described it as 8 million rivets sailing in formation. Unfair and untrue.

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Prospects of loads of female company for the best part of a month lent a certain sense of anticipation to this sojourn. What diminished said keenness was, to put it mathematically, the male/ female numbers ratio.
It was lopsidedly male.
WHY?

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 2

More from the early years…

Apart from the paper mill, the local economy depended on the production of hops, berry fruits and mixed farming. The river supported a rich crop of willow trees, whose elegant branches were just made for fashioning longbows. The arrows were bamboo (sometimes weighted a bit) and the tough bowstring came from the mill. Hardly the stuff of Welsh archers, but pretty good. Later, being fed on a diet of American Westerns at the local Odeon, we simply had to have Winchester repeaters in our saddle bags. One quickly learnt the perils of having exposed metal parts on your home-made rifle. How often had one seen a lantern jawed sheriff nearly blown off his horse because the baddies saw the sunlight glinting off his shotgun. BEWARE!

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The unadulterated tosh of the Westerns was at least entertaining and as predictable as gravity. These were replaced by the saccharine kitsch of the musical. A huge turn-off for kids. No sex, endless antiseptic dance routines couldn’t stand a chance against the goings on in Dodge City. John Wayne was a piss-poor actor, so was the script and the direction. Any 5 year old could spot that, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. I fell in love with Nancy at the cake shop but she didn’t want to know, even when I wore my Lone Ranger cozzie. Never mind.

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After the trip to Melbourne it was time to get down to work. This involved sitting on my bedroom floor surrounded by pens, paper, crayons et. al. and trying to draw.

The gap between expectation and achievement could be measured in light years. One thing never in doubt was the magic of making marks, the overwhelming power of colour and how all this could fashion another world, as real as the one in which we exist. (As with any beginner, child or adult, the aim is to represent the physical world. Once one can do this, it is time to move on. Whether you take anybody else with you on this endeavor is problematic, to say the least.)

My reading matter, or being read to, kicked off with the Little Golden books, which consisted of pretty ordinary versions of Grimm of Perrault. Yet the imagery lives on. I can still see the witch holding Hansel’s hand to see if he was fattening up nicely for the hotting-up  pot behind him. Crossing cattle grids or bush bridges was nerve wracking… I bet that ogre was down there somewhere. I was sure I could hear him.

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A bit further on, the English childrens classics were widely available. Although American and sometimes Australian stuff was around, I had a bit of difficulty responding to the European muted settings and fauna. Squaring the sylvan vegetation of the Ashdown Forest with what I saw walking to school was difficult. This ranged from a kaleidoscope of crimson Rosellas to a drunken bunch of sulphur crested cockatoos. Once the latter had crashed their way into a tree, their clatter would cease, as if by some celestial intervention. The reason was partly celestial, a ‘wedgie’ so called, was on the look out for a spot of lunch.

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What was really a great sadness for my mother was my developing addiction to a form of literature of a much lesser God… COMICS! Worse, American and all about Superman. Tosh of course, but what was the attraction? COLOUR. Trowelled on primaries had all the subtlety of an outside dunny in a cyclone. They also had a powerful smell and contained other niceties like speech and thought balloons. These features were to re-appear in a different form decades later.

Another life-long passion was, oddly enough, established at the age of 3 or 4. This was an unbroken link between our Sunday lunch and so called ‘classical music’. The music mostly took the form of C19 warhorses but as I tucked into my roast lamb I absorbed the sound as well, and the hooks were in, never to slacken. My debt to my parents for this gift is immense.

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 1.

I was born at a very early age…

The aged Dakota DC3 trundled towards a rather basic building at the Hobart airport. It’s piston engines set up a splendid racket and the heat haze smelt pretty good too. This was not wasted upon a wide-eyed 4 year old child bursting with excitement within the confines of the ranch style terminal.

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A trip to Melbourne! This prospect opened the door to another world, a much bigger one. One with loads of trains and trams, big buildings, clouds of people and… some of the houses even had stained-glass windows… even the sky was a better shade of blue. But more than that, if this was one door, how many more were there in this world? The child flirted with this open ended concept. The other huge driver in his short life was his greatest wish that he could learn the skills in order to draw these aircraft. The magic was spun further with the plane ride. Who remembers the sloping aisle to the cockpit? You sat in chairs rather than seats. And those boiled sweets! The hostess gave loads to the kids. AND… being able to visit the cockpit and sit with the pilots as they left the Bass Strait and began their approaches to Melbourne. Magic. Try that now.

And yet, greater excitement awaited. His aunts serried ranks of multi-coloured biscuit barrels were stuffed with a cornucopia of goodies. Viewed from today’s healthy diet platform they would be biscotta non-grata. Never mind, the teddy bears, the stars of the show, were little treasures and will forever remain so. The trip from Tassie was a harbinger of things to come. Even at the ripe old age of four it was clear that there is another world outside this insular community.

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I started life in a mill town, a good chunk of the economy was predicated on that paper producer. It also established a kind of local real estate hierarchy which mirrored that found in the mill. The town was bisected by a fast flowing river, good for swimming but could be dangerous. My mother did not know how close I came to never writing this stuff when I slipped off a greasy submerged plank. A flailing arm grabbed a mooring rope. The arrival home was tricky… how to get into some dry clothes and look relaxed and happy whilst re-living the suffocating horror of the water closing over my head. I attended a funeral service for a child at about that time. Maybe that WAS me and I have entered a parallel universe. I mentioned this concept to my cat Trevor but he looked at me as though I was a chop short of a barbie.