In Vino Veritas

This post contains mature content in the form of life drawing and nudity.

Chapter 5: The Journey to Thinking Big

At the end of secondary school it was time to go back to Melbourne and stay with my Aunt. Why? It meant that I could study art at the grandly named Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. This activity was not so much a learning curve, rather more a vertical axis.
The tuition was very good, three years illustration was followed by 2 years painting. I was , and still am, deeply devoted to both. Customer satisfaction. Life drawing, a splendid discipline, was included in all of this.

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This is a shot of my continued life drawing practice, in my studio in Auckland a good few years later. More on that to come. Photograph courtesy of Geoff Studd. Models name Penny.

In my final year I was employed as a lecturer to teach the first years and part-timers this noble art…. a valuable experience. The students did not seem to be troubled by the age of their tutor. His love of the subject seemed to preclude this. I got my diploma and learnt how to do many things.
THEN! Overtaken by events. A major theatre in the city had approached the college to see if they had a student who could paint theatre scenery. I could imagine how the conversation went… ‘We need somebody who can draw and represent the physical world…for God’s sake don’t send us some abstract expressionist or cubist clown or a mystic Meg. We want technical skill. Give him, or her, anything, and they can do it. They will have to work on a huge scale. More than that, they will have to produce results before the pubs open’!

I got the nod. My meeting with the head honcho was salutary. He was short, golden bristled in a Scottish sort of way, and had the eye colouring of a Norwegian fjord.
He gave me a ‘O God, here’s another one’ sort of look and then pronounced in a voice flat with indifference, ‘Look,sunshine, if you can’t do this, I will bloody soon find somebody who can. I can’t frig around, let’s go’. I have heard similar sentiments expressed many times over the years. You either drop your bundle or it puts iron in the soul. As if to under- score this, he produced a cartoon ( in the original sense, a preparatory study). This was about A2 landscape in format and had to be scaled up to a massive 10×5 metre back cloth. Suddenly, a jaw dropping moment.
Our leader folded the cartoon twice, and tore it from top to bottom in order to make 3 identical panels. He took one, his long time assistant another, and he gave the third to me.
‘OK,’ he commanded, gesturing at the prepared canvas, ‘you guys start at either end, I’ll do the middle. Don’t screw it up’
I am as dry as a dead dingo’s….. ‘You have an hour to get the first stage knocked in’.

I looked at the cartoon. It was a kind of Baroque hell. Greek columns, acanthus leaves, Brunelleschian architecture, figures in alcoves, tracery, decorative stone and woodwork, and on and on. It was to accompany a Strauss type Viennese Operetta. I am sure the blue Danube must appear sooner or later. That would be a doddle.
Enter the real world…

Two legacies of all this… 1. Only ever using thin paint as the cloths had to be rolled for transport; and 2. An undying love for working on a very big scale.

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Opus 5 Requiem, dye and acrylic on canvas, 198 x 370cm

 

Glyndebourne Exhibition

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Glyndebourne Festival Gallery is open to Festival ticket holders only.

www.glyndebourne.com

You can visit my studio at any time by appointment,

email: info@davidarmitage.com or call: 01825 873477

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Lucky Dip

The Tale of Hamish

The T-bone steak seemed about the size of a dustbin lid , well seasoned and nicely cooked by the look of it. It nestled behind the near- side front wheel of my car, just outside the kitchen window. My puzzlement increased when I heard our neighbour’s wife, in a rather perplexed and shrill voice enquire ‘Brian, have you eaten your steak?’
The steak was then obscured by a bundle of orange fur.
Oh God,! NOT AGAIN! Two hours previously a group of people walked past our front gate. One of them pointed at Hamish and with thinly disguised fury screamed ‘That’s the one, BLOODY CAT’!
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Some 10 years earlier, in 1977, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch was published.
One of the main protagonists in the story (and subsequent stories) was and is Hamish the ginger cat. A complete invention of course. We had no pets and were awaiting copies of the said book when, one morning, our children, aged about 5 and 3 called for Ronda and I to come to the kitchen AT ONCE!
On the doorstep sat a perfect example of life imitating art. He might as well have jumped out of the pages of the book. Even his whiskers matched. He was dubbed Hamish and lived with us for about 12 years.It seems he had been unceremoniously dumped  by a distant neighbour. Why? He had demolished her young child’s birthday cake by the simple expedient of eating all the cream and fancy trimmings which adorned this exquisite creation. After a string of such incidents, her patience ran out.
Essentially Hamish was a fearless thug and as cunning as a dunny rat with a gold tooth. This had it’s advantages. One day I discovered an Alsatian bitch in our garden merrily trampling over the seedlings. I rushed out intervene but just as quickly in- rushed. Yellow fangs snarled, hackles rose and laser- like eyes fixed on my throat.
With what dignity I could muster I retreated inside. My ginger friend was sleeping off a heavy lunch. By now he had lost one eye, half an ear and had more dents and tears in the bodywork than an ancient stock-car. What remained of him was a bundle of teeth and claws held together by whipcord sinews. I took him outside and pointed his good eye at the Alsatian. What followed was the concept of an orange Exocet missile. He flew in a splendid glowing arc aiming squarely for the carotid artery. The Alsatian was terrified. It reared, stumbled and yowled as it got caught in some fencing wire which she dragged down the road.
Back inside, I glanced in the fridge and saw the ample remains of some very tender beef which was going to be re- cycled. As Hamish tucked into a goodly chunk of this, I am absolutely certain he knew it was for a job well done.
He was no mug.
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His stay with us was a kind of symmetry, he came out of the blue and left to go ‘who knows where?’ The children looked everywhere for him, as did we all, but no joy. I think he knew his time was up and found some secluded  spot. He wouldn’t want any of his umpteen vanquished rivals dancing on his grave.
Forty years later, he is about to entertain a third generation of readers. He lives on.

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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.

Well here we are then…

Someone told me I should write a blog, and I always do as I’m told [pause for laughter] or perhaps I got a ghost writer to do it all for me… who would ever know?!

Giverny low res

Hmmm… anyway here we are at my first blog post, I’ll keep it fairly brief. Above here you see one of my most loved paintings, Giverney which will be out on show at my studio during the Glyndebourne Festival season – more on that next time. For those of you who don’t know, my main passion is abstract painting and colour, always colour. Whether it’s from an inkpot applied to paper, or from a bucket tipped onto canvas, IMG_6561there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than colour.

La couleur est mon obsession quotidienne, ma joie et mon tourment – Claude Monet

Colour is my daylong obsession, joy and torment.

You can see more of my paintings on my website and also facebook and instagram. Yes I am a man of the 21st century!

But there are many more strings to my bow; does anyone remember The Lighthouse Keeper? Mr and Mrs Grinling and of course Hamish are now entertaining a new generation of children, and many people still tell us how much they loved these books when they were young.

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I have also illustrated many other books, including the Kate Greenaway Award nominated Queen of the Night:

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And most recently a self published book Winterreise, bringing to life the timeless song cycle for voice and piano, composed by Franz Schubert and including the poems of Wilhelm Muller.

David Armitage

But what there’s more? I hear you gasp! Well being a well traveled and well matured specimen I have many a tale to tell which you may find diverting; and being a Tasmanian by origin I do love a bit of banter over the cricket which you may find amusing or infuriating depending on your allegiance. I’ll try to be gentle on you.

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That’s all for now. Make sure you come back again soon to see what I’ve been up to, or subscribe by email… someone’s got to keep an eye on me!