A Typical Day

The nine days we spent at William Creek were divided between early morning painting sprees and late nights at the bar. Hours of contemplation taking in the expansive horizon line of Lake Eyre were followed by intensive debates about art speak, academics, financial issues, aesthetics and the meaning of life. Despite varying opinions, one cliché proved true; regardless of his or her differences, each artist at heart believed in the notion of the ‘brotherhood of the brush’.

Numerous games of pool seemed to settle most disagreements. One story told over a game had us all in stitches. When we arrived from Melbourne via Coober Pedy it was in a convoy of three vehicles. I was driving the van and arrived first. Ryman was close behind in the Toyota with Dooney and Jones. Next should have been Kuiti, however, it was several hours later before he arrived driving the Nissan, explaining that he had blown a tyre. A local Aboriginal boy named Benji joined the game of pool and after a few beers and bad shots he bragged with humour about helping Kuiti change the tyre. No one twigged until Benji joyfully recounted that Kuiti has been half way to Oodnadatta when he encountered him. Kuiti had informed us about the puncture, but had kept quiet about taking a wrong turn practically within sight of William Creek and driving 80 kilometres in the wrong direction! The hilarity ended the game. Benji, laughing, said ‘I saved the bastard – he was ‘alf way to Oodnadatta.” Kuiti joined in the laughter but had his revenge with an endless barrage of Kiwi-Aussie jokes.

During dinner on the first night the issue of poverty for young artists arose, an issue David Deague feels strongly about. While the artists assembled at William Creek have all found varying degrees of success, they have also suffered a certain amount of deprivation in order to paint. ‘We’re fortunate if we make some money,’ says Sibley, ‘but that has nothing to do with how we feel about painting itself or the quality or how it’s going to be seen historically.’

‘But you have to see yourself in daylight,’ Pople responds. ‘You can’t live like a rabbit in a hole. Making art is a monster. You can’t give it up, it’s an addiction and I don’t want to give it up. It’s a way of life and it’s a way of life that I have chosen. If you choose this way of life you have to run with it. But it’s the same in other fields, we’re not just odd eccentrics, we may appear so, but we’re not. It’s that old adage, “What does a civilisation know about its artists?” and the answer is “Fuck all”. What do we know of any civilisation other than through its art and artifacts?’

‘Well, you notice they didn’t take a poet into outer space,’ says Storrier.

Larwill adds: ‘It ain’t rocket science.’

‘Yeah,’ says Hari. ‘They took a monkey. Was it an artist?’

‘The poorest I’ve ever been,’ added Dooney vehemently ‘is when I lived in a one-bedroom sleep-out with plastic covering the walls, breathing paint fumes, and it was terrible. It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t romantic.’

‘If there’s no money artists move to where the money is,’ says Storrier. ‘That’s historic.’

‘On the other hand, too much money can be a distraction. You can afford to indulge your addictions – look at Brett [Whiteley],’ adds Makin.

‘The romantic notion that living in poverty makes your work better is just crap,’ says Dooney. ‘In the end I just got sick.’

‘I went through the same thing,’ says Sibley. ‘I was living in a cellar and I was very, very poor. But it does prove that you’re impelled.’

‘Sure, it shows dedication,’ Pople adds, ‘but the whole idea of the poor artist being romantic is just bullshit. It’s an idea dreamt up by rich bastards who buy the art cheap and keep the artist in poverty while they end up with masterpieces on their walls.’

‘Rodney, do you know what Matisse said about artists?’ Sibley asks. ‘They should have their tongues cut out. We’re much better with a paint brush.’

‘Well fuck that! That’s the most stupid thing,’ Pople replies. ‘Matisse only said it out of anger.’

‘I think we should start charging one dollar for every F-word,’ Storrier proposes.

‘Well fuck that,’ says Pople. ‘Phillip Guston once said that artists should be like talking monkeys … or shouldn’t be …’

‘Which was it, should or shouldn’t?’ asks Storrier.

‘I can’t remember,’ says Pople to general hilarity.

‘There you go,’ says Hari, ‘that’s why they sent monkeys into space!’

‘This is the first time I have had an opportunity to talk to experienced artists about how they run their careers,’ Dooney remarks. ‘I’ve been trying to work it all out by myself until now. It’s really lovely for me.’

‘Well, we’re all professional painters and it is that sense of camaraderie,’ says Jacks.

‘Cheered by this Pople looks up, ‘I think amongst this group there is a very generous spirit.’

‘And Dooney again: ‘It’s amazing how generous people are with their knowledge and experience. I’ve relied upon teachers at art school and it took me a long time to realise that they often just don’t know.’

‘The bottom line is they don’t,’ says Larwill. ‘The way art is going at the moment is all conceptually based, like these idiots dragging their bedroom from when they were thirteen into the gallery space. There’s a heap for a journalist or critic to go at there. It’s all critics and curators and tossers. They’re pushing too many would be artists a year out of those schools.’

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