Features Australia

Artist’s Notebook

29 October 2016

9:00 AM

29 October 2016

9:00 AM

When old ‘wobble board’ Rolf was sent up to the big house I felt a sense of relief not because the old codger had gone to gaol but because I wouldn’t have to be reminded of his awful bland creations he had concocted for the TV cameras over decades. If truly awful painting was a criminal offence he would have been locked up years ago. He is of course a ‘public artist’ created by television and he is the best known artist in the UK, especially after he did that execrable portrait of Her Majesty, not to mention his conviction for pedophilia.

Just when you think things are improving, up pops Ahn Do, our very own brand new TV artist, with a programme called A Brush with Fame. I get it, but I didn’t see a brush anywhere, just a palette knife the size of shovel. In the post modern world proper training does not seem to matter as all efforts and results are of equal value. Having said that, it is obvious that Ahn has taken some serious tuition at a cake decorating academy. He creates vague likenesses using huge slabs of thick oil impasto applied to large canvases with a palette knife. Now Ahn is obviously a very charming and gifted fellow; a writer, comedian of high standing and a valuable contributor to Australian culture. He is now the front of house painter for the ABC. Of course, it is not only about the painting, it is about the banter of famous entertainers and personalities which seem to go rather well with these painted concoctions. Using buckets of impasto to paint a recognisable face, however, is like using a back hoe to make a watch. Ahn is not the first or last public figure to attempt daubing as a second job. It is fashionable now. There are few rules and no standards. I have heard disturbing reports that Sly Stallone likes to fling some pigment but I have no knowledge of the results (one can’t really imagine). Tony Bennett paints rather competent pictures, Barry Humphries hits the easel with gusto in a high chromatic colour sense, HRH Prince Charles is a very competent water colourist. James Thurber created a very unique style of drawing. I suppose this diversity is very common. And then you have drawings by Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Kurt Vonnegut that are of no real quality but are valuable because of the fame of their creator. After decades of attempting to paint pictures of some quality and, of course, not always successfully, I firmly believe that rigorous, academic and skills-based training is mandatory if worthwhile results are to be achieved in the long term. This was understood in the traditional art schools in China where self expression is only allowed after technical ability is proven. You only have to think of classical musical training and the years of strenuous instruction and practise to understand my point. Good luck Ahn but don’t forget how to tell a joke.

Richard Neville died on 4 September this year. Whilst I know one should not speak ill of the dead, and I was sad to see him go, may I make some observations as Richard had been a part of my cultural life. I had followed the graphic work of Martin Sharpe and Gary Shead when I was quite young and then later followed Richard and Martin through the Oz trials.   It was very hard not to like Richard, as he had a most unusual and beguiling face, a very quirky intellect, and a smile that eclipsed Luna Park. I didn’t know him well personally but I liked him. On one occasion Richard made it clear that he didn’t have much time for me. I suppose I deviated from his party line on Iraq and other matters. Well, he has gone now and I can only reflect that everything he advocated has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; teen sex and drugs and the scorning of any legitimate authority can only now be reflected upon now as ‘HIPPIE HOOLIGANISM’. In later life Richard described himself as a ‘futurist’, pretty rich really as I don’t think even Richard envisaged the outcomes of his disasterous advocacy. Still we do need people who make great efforts. I did like Richard Neville and we could do with more of his kind of energy even if I disagreed with him. Vale Richard (and Martin).


I spoke to a dear old friend on the phone. His wife is terminally ill and his distress was palpable. It is said that there is a great emotional similarity between bereavement and divorce. Having been through both I really don’t know how I would have proceeded without the haven and anvil of my studio. All of us are sustained through tribulation by the saviour of work and its diversions.

In this post modern world we seem to be surrounded by photographic images usually to aid sales of some product. Recently I have noticed how many images move electronic film clips. The day may come when people will only engage with moving images. People watch Batman movies but can’t concentrate long enough to understand the beauty of a Vemeer. Come to think of it that day may have already arrived…

They are going to prosecute Bill Leak under 18C – so we have finally come to this. Under the current dictatorship of the intellectuals we are going to try and silence an artist, a cartoonist of extraordinary ability and cultural value. This on top of the shameful indictment of the QUT students. Question where is Tony Abbott, George Brandis, Malcolm Turnbull or any other Liberal (or Labor) politicians and more to the point where are Bill’s fellow cartoonists, his supposed comrades in ink? Where are all those artists and writers who pay lip service to freedom of expression? If we let Bill swing it will be an unforgiveable disgrace to this country and what is left of our freedom and culture. How on earth have we got to this. #Je Suis Bill Leak. Bonsoir Triggs and the HRC.

The post Artist’s Notebook appeared first on The Spectator.

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