25 November 2023

Inaugural dAda mUse Surrealist Art Prize

At the museum in Stanley I found a photograph of an early 20th century tinker, by all accounts a colourful character, who travelled with her horse and cart around north west Tasmania selling kitchenware made from recycled kerosene tins.  While drawing I thought about her life and the things she made and somehow this figure emerged from my subconscious, in the best surrealist tradition. So I painted it. 

Tinker's Child - acrylic on canvas, 36 cm x 46 cm

Last night was the opening of the inaugural dAda mUse Surrealist Art Prize exhibition, and Tinker's Child won first prize.

dAda mUse is a new gallery housed in a nicely restored heritage building in Launceston. It has on permanent display Australia's largest collection of works on paper by Salvador Dali, and actively promotes community interest in the arts, especially surrealism.  This is an acquisitive award so she will be hanging up there in the gallery among the Dali works. Chuffed? You bet!

The finalists exhibition can be seen at dAda mUse, 121 Cimitiere St, Launceston (the 1842 Johnstone and Wilmot building) until Sunday, 17 December 2023.

Update 18 Dec 2023: Stephanie Burbury, of the Oatlands History Room, kindly sent me this photograph of old Mother Brown, a.k.a. Mrs Tin-eye Brown, who inspired this painting

03 November 2023

Why I painted the Yellow Vase

One of the questions I am most frequently asked is “where do you get your ideas?” This is not always easy to answer as there are so many reasons to make a painting. Sometimes I hear a chance phrase in a conversation or on the radio that sounds like a good title. Other times I decide, for whatever reason, that I’d really like to paint a specific subject. And sometimes I have a blank canvas – and a mind to match. 

When that happens, I remember the advice I used to give my painting students: “Look out the window”. This was one of those occasions. Here is the view from my studio window. I should have washed the window before I took the photo.

My father used to hoard stuff; there is a lot more of it lying around than is obvious here. 

I began blocking out a design, and once I started putting paint on canvas ideas began to form.

I decided I wanted a sense of space and distance and I needed some figures. The blue thing on top of the pile of rusting junk is an industrial-size light shade from some long-forgotten factory, so a slightly differently shaped light shade and a splash of blue got into the picture. Some bright yellow was needed to provide a point of contrast, then it was a case of adjusting shapes and colours until I was happy with the way they worked together. And quite a long time later this was the result.

Yellow Vase  oil on canvas 84 cm x 84 cm completed 20 October 2023

This afternoon I delivered it to Nolan Art Gallery in the Salamanca Arts Centre, where you can see it for the next month or so.

01 November 2023



The Devil's head rests on a riverbank rock.

A precipitous path winds down the face of honeycombed cliffs. Unseen marsupials and mysterious serpents have left tracks in the sand where flesh-eating beasts retire to their lairs. Cockatoos the colour of death perch in dry branches. Through a break in the forest canopy far below you catch a glimpse of water. 

The rock wall to your left is eroded and crumbling. For millennia onslaughts of water and wind have weathered the soft, golden sandstone into extravagant caverns and hollows, creating a fantastic place of wonder. Shapes shift with the shadows, becoming faces, giant figures, impossible animals. 

Nature Walk - oil on canvas 91 cm x 122 cm

When you reach the valley floor it is cool and dark, a tangle of moss-covered boulders, fallen trees, hip-high ferns and trailing lichen, rotting logs, earth-stars and unfamiliar fungi. This is the Bluff River Gorge. Supernatural creatures, spirits of tree and river and rock, haunt this place.

I laid out my canvas on All Hallows Eve, when ancient beings emerge to commune with the owls and microbats and Tasmanian devils, and painted a picture of what I may have seen.

And the Devil's head? I found the little polished ivory skull once as I was crossing the river. After admiring it, I placed it back among the rocks in its bed of soft green moss. On my next visit, months later, skull and moss were gone, washed away in the winter floods.

*High quality limited edition prints of this painting may be ordered from Nolan Art Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart   https://www.nolanart.com.au/