This matter of right choices. (Auto-biography)

August 22, 2015
Old Australian cottage.

Old Australian cottage.

In summing up the choice to return to Australia from Holland was made spontaneously. Helvi was happy to stay but also happy to return. She has much less trouble with the perceived pros and cons of this country or that country. To ‘just get on’ is much more in her domain than mine. I mull and procrastinate and still make rash decisions. It seems an oxymoron.

The reasons given can be seen as both wise and unwise. Both countries have good and not so good qualities depending on personal likes or dislikes. To shine further light on what happened back in 1976 seems an exercise that might be futile and runs the risk of boring  the reader who could already be somewhat stretched in accepting this chain of indecisive events.

I do remember missing the good times with my extended family of brothers and sister with their spouses and their children in Australia. Another item not to be ignored was the lure of the bush. It is rather comforting to know you can just walk into the Australian bush  for days, never need meet another soul.  This makes for great therapy, but also great murder scenarios. Skeletons are sometimes discovered of people gone missing years before. Australia is even big enough for that! Some call it “Lebensraum”.

The sea of life is what we make of it and mulling over past events is what this exercise is all about. I write down what happened in the past, hopefully without invoking even more guilt or judgement. This is a luxury that I give to the readers. There is no greater naval gazing than writing memoires. The dressing up of calling it an Autobiography seems a bit haughty if not pretentious. It is not as if this writer is an Obama or the latest Pope! Even so, it is the best I can come up with in doing something useful. Apart from all that, it keeps me off the streets.

If I remember right we arrived back in Australia in the beginning of June 1976 and moved into our house around the beginning of August, coinciding with arrival of all our belongings. Those belongings were packed in Holland in two large wooden crates measuring together a bit over 17 cubic metres. I received a letter from Customs that the goods had arrived and that,  after inspection by custom officers, I could arrange to get them picked up and delivered to our house in Balmain.  The Custom letter also gave the sage advice to take a jemmy-bar to prise open the lids of the wooden crates.

After arrival at the depot it took about half-a-day to find the crates amongst thousands of other crates. It had Oosterman written on it and that was of some comfort. However, to open the lids proved difficult. Even to get on top of the crates was going to be very difficult, (sorry ‘challenging’). It was years later when the word ‘difficult’ was banned and changed into ‘challenge.’  The psychologists have a lot to answer for by making us believe that changing words around, somehow can make life easier. Later on  the word ‘challenge’ was primed up even further and has morphed into ‘solutions’.  We all know that after paying to get ourselves psycho-analysed we end up accepting there is nothing to life’s problems that can’t be overcome by using and finding ‘solutions’.  I wrote before about our local butcher selling ‘meat solutions.’  Huge trucks and road trains thunder along our highways with ‘logistics’ written on their tarpaulins, bringing ‘solutions’ all around our country.

A friendly truck-driver gave me a leg-up onto the top of the crate. How to open the lids allowing for Custom Officer inspection when standing on top of it? The logistics were challenging. The Custom Officer arrived and with help of the friendly truck driver managed to open the lids. He poked around a bit and wasn’t all that enthusiastic in looking for wood-worm or other possible infestations of bugs that Australia was very weary off. Most people that have ever flown into Australia might remember the Customs carnival going through the plane cross armed, after arrival in Australia, holding two spray cans above their heads and spraying the perplexed passengers still sweetly restrained sitting in their seats! All in an effort to safeguard Australia from nasty Foreign Overseas born flies  and insects. Of course, no country in the world suffers more from flies than Australia!

So much more to Laws of order and compliance.(Auto-biography)

August 19, 2015
The Pagoda of Buddhist temple near Sydney.

The Pagoda of Buddhist temple near Sydney.

Of course the idea of shifting home and hearth to a different continent because of a disallowance to eat peanut and cheese sandwiches while sitting down in a State protected nature-reserve is perhaps a bit too flighty to take serious.  It is just too silly for words. Holland is a small country and just ‘imagine’ if we all went around eating sandwiches willy-nilly in nature reserves; not a blade of grass would survive the onslaught of peanut butter and cheese sandwiches being flung about in the bushes by rebellious kids for whom nothing short of a Big MacDonald’s with a Coke would suffice. Even if we did not sit down with the sandwiches, nature would not cope with the millions of feet trampling all over the place. The acidity of Coke vapours would kill the few remaining forests. Holland is wise to tell its citizens; you can look at the growing grasses but stay off it!

No, there were other reasons for this sudden decision to leave when all seemed to go so well. It might well have to do with something that makes a country appreciated when living away from it. The very things that I disliked about our previous abode in Australia were the very things I now missed. I missed them sorely!  It could well be the total contrast of the environment. Holland is neat, tidy and so well organised. Nothing out of place. Nothing allowed to be out of place.

Australia can be chaotic. It has the freedom to be so. Weeds are growing between the cracks on bitumen roads. Some footpaths lifted and sticking up from battle hardened  paper-bark tree roots, rampantly and disobediently growing upwards, without a diploma, permission or license. Sheets of rusted corrugation flapping merrily in the wind in a contemptuous dereliction. Car sales yards with yawning bonnets neck on neck and in between suburban houses. The rickety verandas  enclosed with crinkle- glassed louvre windows, some open like missing teeth, giving the inhabitant the opportunity to wind-dry unashamedly orange singlets with holes it or to look at the belching diesel fumes of a passing truck.

After three years in Holland our re-entry visas to Australia had run out. We had to go through the rigmarole of applying for migration. Our three children had Australian citizenship allowing a speedy permission to re-migrate to Australia. Again, the buff coloured letter-heads came in handy once again. Australia was still in dire needs of painting. The ‘good’ kind of painting for houses and industry. The jovial consular official of the Australia embassy cracked a couple of jokes. We were almost back in Australia within those The Hague embassy walls. His top three or four buttons of his shirt were undone. He made us a coffee.

One of the more fortuitous events that we were totally unaware off while in Holland, were the tumultuous political shenanigans that had occurred in Australia during our absence. There were scandals of unscrupulous money borrowings from shady Middle Eastern money merchants. There were love intrigues between married politicians. The world lapped it all up. Sensational exposure to scandal after scandal. Governments resigned and the Australian dollar collapsed. After flying back and landing in Sydney, my brother picked us up from the airport. We were to live in their house while he and his three children were going to travel to Europe. In exchange we gave them our trusted VW Kombi parked at my parents place in Holland.

Visit to Buddhist Temple with friends.

Visit to Buddhist Temple with friends.

As we again scoured around to find a place to live there was no question we would again find our feet back in old trusted Balmain.  Our kids were enrolled in the school that our eldest daughter had been going to before we went to Holland in search of the artist salary. The very house that we used to admire before our departure to Holland was for sale. Can you believe it? A five bedroom house made of sandstone with a large garden. We were told Germaine Greer had lived in it during her wild student days. We were totally but very pleasantly knocked off our socks when we converted our Dutch guilders into Australian dollars. The devaluation meant we came back with more than what we had left with. Much more. How could Australia be any friendlier? We bought the house with a small mortgage.

It all had turned out well.

The wandering again regained. ( Auto-biography)

August 17, 2015
Mantingerzand

Mantingerzand

The decision to return to Australia came unexpectedly. I was the last one to recognize its coming. As noted before; things were steaming along nicely. Painting was in full flight. Money was being earned as a fully fledged artist. I was teaching adults. Our children were growing and thriving. We lived in a lovely farm-house. The Shetlands were settled and  the  beady eyed Barneveldt chickens were very happy and laying generously. What more could one want?

There are several possible explanations that led to this decision. None are valid enough on their own but perhaps together and in total, might shed some light on this sudden and strange ‘out of the blue’ return to Australia. Let me start on just a couple of explanations of events that I remember as if from yesterday.

We decided to go swimming in a small lake popular for swimming during those rare warm days that even rainy Holland sometimes gets rewarded with. The province that our village was situated in is the least populated area in Holland.  At that time, one could still find small areas of wilderness to enjoy, without huge swarms of people crowding out all pleasurable activities. When we arrived there were some people and kids about but that only made it even more enjoyable. This little lake used to be a sand quarry in the past but had been surrendered to mother nature when the sand digging had ceased. It was a lovely spot surrounded by bushes seeking shelter under pine trees. Included in those bushes was a haze of purple heather, somewhat shy. There was laughter and joy about. The perfect day!

After arrival we all jumped in. It was a kind of jubilation, a celebration of unbridled joy and fun day. There was a large family also jumping about with a tribe of children skirmishing and splashing up and down in the shallow water mucking about with a large log that they had dragged into the water. They seemed to talk in a foreign language. Perhaps they were Turkish or Moroccan immigrants. In any case, they had a lot of fun. The parents were looking on. All were safe.

Out of the bushes and all of a sudden a person of some grey authority appeared almost like something out of a faded book of doom or The Treaty of Utrecht. He went to the edge of the water and ordered in no uncertain manner for the children to take that unauthorised log of wood out of the water. The kids looked somewhat frightened. The parents got up to find out the problem that this killjoy figure seemed to have. They understood that the log had to be taken out of the water. An argument ensued after the parents wanted to find out the reason why this log seemed to be so difficult to accept in the water. They wanted to know what the problem was. At this stage, the man of authority could have just shrugged his shoulders and walk away. He did not. He started on a long prologue and explanation on what would happen if everyone would take a log into the water. “What then, he demanded?”  “Suppose we all take a log?”   “What then, he added again?”  A cloud came over the event. The kids dragged the log out of the water and back into the bushes. The parents said something in their own language and gave in, not wanting to risk a fine or Court appearance for non-compliance of an order. Order in Holland has to be maintained at all cost.

A similar event  occurred a few months after the unauthorized log event. There exists a lovely and unspoilt piece of original nature. It is called Mantingerzand. It was within a twenty minute drive from were we lived and a very beautiful, original and unique nature reserve.

https://www.google.com.au/#q=Mantingerzand .

We decided to go for a pick-nick and had packed sandwiches to take with us for a lunch. Throughout this nature reserve are walking paths which one has to follow. Of course, in order to not disturb the uniqueness of this original piece of nature it is pointed out and fully understandable, to stay within the pathways.  As we were walking along, absorbing the beauty of the place, we all were getting hungry. The fresh air in nature does that, doesn’t it?  And decided to just stop, sit down on the pathway and eat our cheese and peanut sandwiches.  Within a few minutes and within the time-frame of having swallowed the first vigorous bites into our  sandwich, the faded and dreaded figure of authority turned up on his bike. “What do you think you are doing NOW?, he said?”  We turned pale and the kids looked frightened. We are eating sandwiches, I stated with some hesitancy, in case we were doing something else, considered to be so dreadful, it wasn’t worth thinking about.

“Now just think a bit”, the grey man stated! We immediately started thinking feverishly but obediently. Our sandwiches were patiently waiting to be chewed into further. But we had all gotten strangely un-hungry.  “Just imagine, just imagine”, the grey figure was now warming up to his favourite phrase. (He had honed the wording in front of his proud wife the very night before). “Just imagine if all of us would sit down and eat sandwiches in nature, just like that, he said.”   “What would happen then, he asked”. He looked at us in turn. We gave in, got up and resumed our walk. We put the patient sandwiches and thermos back in the bag and silently walked on.

Order was maintained.

The return! (Auto-Biography)

August 16, 2015
My parents in front of their old house in Revesby. It was their last visit to Australia.

My parents in front of their old house in Revesby. It was their last visit to Australia.

While the three years in Holland are worthy of a book-tome on its own, I have to move on. Time is of the essence. Having arrived at seventy-five since the  seventh of August this year, and with at least another forty years to record, I must move on from the nineteen- seventies. A derailment is a possibility! Still, I must remain sanguine and take heart from the statistics that tell me there is an eighty percent chance of turning eighty- five for those that are in good health at seventy- five. However the odds of turning ninety-five at eighty-five years of age are less cheerful.

A few art shows followed the primary school triptych commission. Here and there paintings were sold and generally things were steaming along nicely. Our three children were growing fast but not so fast that driving around in the Kombi wasn’t at times a somewhat difficult  and testing task. Young children on long car trips is a job too far. Who would not be bored sitting confined in a metal box on rotating rubber wheels? Instead of long drives, we  set up tents in the paddocks together with sheep and Shetlands.  It was a blessing. The kids loved it and with two tents, they could swap around if there were disagreements on which teddy to sleep with or who had pinched an extra biscuit.

My brother Frank with his long suffering chronic schizophrenia was finally repatriated and taken back to Holland in 1975. Australia doesn’t serve the disadvantaged well.  It had been a hell. In bewildered desperation he had jumped off the Pyrmont bridge in Sydney. His left foot was to become forever damaged. He was fortunate to have survived the jump.

012Frank

My brother Frank on his birthday, a few days ago. 11th of August 2015

Years of tussles between the Australian bureaucracy and my parents did not resolve the lack of care for Frank. He would either be free to come and go as he liked, or, the alternative, have him ‘scheduled’ and he would never come home. The idea of ‘scheduling’ Frank into an Australian institute filled us all with horror. There did not seem to be anything in between. The very term ‘scheduled’ brings Charles Dickens and Bedlam into focus. Even today, I would not want to hear Mental Health and Australia mentioned in the same sentence. At least not during that period. When Frank jumped off the Pyrmont bridge he had for some years joined that army of the dishevelled, the uncombed and lost souls that roam streets, hovering between a vague sanity and death without much care by others except for the desperate parents or a rare kind person that would at times provide food, shelter and some encouraging words.

http://qz.com/473779/several-dutch-cities-want-to-give-residents-a-no-strings-attached-basic-income/

The above link from Stuart Bramhall Blog. http://stuartjeannebramhall.com/author/stuartbramhall/

Two Dutch carers from Holland came to pick Frank up from Sydney and he was flown back to Holland together with my parents. It would not have been easy to have a mentally ill person on a plane, but the Dutch Government would have complied with the relevant regulations. One can imagine! My parents were informed of what to expect for Frank in the care of Dutch social welfare and mental health. He had a room on his own with TV, encouraged to play sport and swim. He would have his own income and free to do with it what he liked. ( mainly cigarettes) . My parents would be at all times kept informed about his health, medication. He would be given dental care, his feet, eyes, all would be looked at and maintained. His days would be spent with activities and at times would be taken in groups on outings, excursions, holidays; even at one stage to France! My parents were free to visit and Frank free to visit his parents but accompanied by nursing staff.

Helvi and I remember once visiting Frank at his new place in Holland and asked if we could speak to his doctor and staff. We were given a lunch, sat around the table talking to the psychiatrist, his doctor, staff and given all the information to do with Frank’s care. An unbelievable and wonderful experience. A weight was lifted from our family. Why was that so difficult to achieve in Australia?

My parents also left Australia for good and decided to be with Frank and own extended family of brothers and sisters. A considerable number had moved into an age in tandem with themselves. Their numerous children were now adults with own families. Many parents now retired and care-free to enjoy life, paint the town red, or if not red at least take a floating tour on the rivers of Europe, sipping champagne and soak up Habsburg’s castles perched on steep cliffs and rocky outposts.

My parents had put up their house for sale in Revesby, that would afford them a little nest egg. It was for them the right thing to do. They would be with Frank and their own family. The rest of us had settled, married and had children of our own.And then..like a bolt of lightning, we decided, or rather I decided, to return to Australia… But of that…next time.

Teaching and the obstinate Shetland pony ( Auto-biography).

August 14, 2015

IMG_20140701_0003

We all know that Shetland ponies are escape artists. When you see them looking down, they are actually thinking. “How the hell can I get out of this joint?”. Our Shetland was a Houdini. I would get a phone call; “Hey Gerard your horse is in town.” I would jump on my bike with the lead in hand. I would cycle back, Shetland on rope, give her a stern talking to and put her back in with the sheep and chickens. I would again fix the wire fence but also knew she would soon figure a way out again. When the foal was born she stopped escaping.

There are so many memories fondly embedded in that period that I am at risk of never finishing what I set out to do. The aim is to meander from the beginning of my family’s migration in 1956 till my present state of blissful dotage. Still, words at times seem to have a will of their own, like a Shetland, and lead to unexpected and totally arbitrary directions. My apologies.

The job of teaching came about though a friend named Jan Muller who was doing the salt glazed pottery and lived in the museum village of Orvelte, and who was teaching at a collage for adults. After a short interview I started teaching at the same college. That was the best time of our stay in Holland. The first day of teaching was somewhat nerve-wrecking. Who was I to teach anything? I wasn’t taught anything. Failed even the Phyllis Bates ‘academy of dance’ of Fox trot and the Rumba. And that was with the dance steps painted on the floor!

Of course I had a good grounding from Desiderius Orban, the Hungarian master teacher at The Rocks in Sydney. He lived till 101 years and at the time we were in Holland I was still in contact with him. Fear is what prevents many from employing what we are all born with. The ability to express and give form to some creativity, no matter how humble or grandiose. The first lesson, if I remember correctly, was to try and get all the adults to put charcoal or pencil to paper. Now, if you had a group of toddlers, they would instantly without exception start to doodle furiously and with great joy! Not so with many adults. It is sad. They lost this spontaneity and joy. Many would as a first option say; ‘I can’t draw.’ They say that before any attempt was made to put a single dot on the paper. How do you know?  You don’t know if you don’t try!  ‘Go on, put the charcoal on the paper just draw a line or just a single dot’!

My first day was to try and make the students approach the paper without fear. Somehow the enthusiasm of the toddler had to be regained. That is what my aim of teacher was. I could not teach just skill or things like shading or making portrait eyes follow you around the room, photo-like images of apples or strawberries so real that the paper or canvas was almost bitten into by the ambitious but starving student while wearing a beret and dirty pants.

I am chuffed and proud to say that up till this day I have been lucky to keep a good friendship with one of those students. She is now an established and successful artist in her own right and in her own way. Check it out here.

http://www.lonia.nl/

http://www.kunsthuiskamer.nl/lonia_schoelvinck.html

I am  ever so proud of her.

The commission for a mural and teaching adults.(Auto- biography).

August 11, 2015
Mother and daughter Shetland ponies. Natasha in the background.

Mother and daughter Shetland ponies. Natasha in the background.

With roughly more than seven decades between the beginning and now, one has to allow for some discrepancies on this heap of memories. The order and dates might not be exact but the events are true. One might also have to allow that the events are somewhat embellished to make them more readable  or perhaps even enjoyable. A French polished table doesn’t make it less or more of a table if presented in raw oak.  The specimen of my life is not any different from the multitudes of other lives. It is also not any more unique in its minutia than those other lives of this world.  I write what I feel was important. But the nature of writing an autobiography  implies a certain amount of egoism. I do it to continue with my life as I have in the past. Keep myself off the street. I enjoy the confessional  part of it, but also realize it is a race against time with the inevitability of those final last words that befalls all of us. The pole vaulting days are over but writing about it makes solid the past. A kind of coagulation of a mishmash of memories rusted onto the years gone by. The words as yet not said do remain ringing.

The school that our daughter went to was about a ten minutes bicycle ride along a sweet little country lane into the small town. She used to come home for lunch and go off again for afternoon lessons. At no stage did we even contemplate that there were dangers of traffic or bad people prowling about. Children getting to school on their own was the norm. At least in The Netherlands. It was idyllic. Even in the country, no distance seemed beyond a ride on a bicycle. No helmets were worn either. All was safe and there were bicycle path separating riders from cars. We had sheep, chickens and a pregnant Shetland pony. What could one ask for more?

One winter morning there was a furious tapping on our bedroom window. Our bedroom was at the front of the farm overlooking the meadow in which the sheep and pony grazed. It was our neighbour. He was a serious farmer unlike us. “You have a foal, Gerard.”   “Get up and hang the afterbirth” he said. Of course it wasn’t in those words. The dialect in the area we lived in was as unlike Dutch as Scottish is from English, or Welsh from Irish. Is there some unwritten law that men respond to tapping on bedroom windows and not the female? In any case, it had snowed outside and our bed was warm. Even so, I did admire and liked our neighbour’s care for our pony. He had already told us it looked she might un-pack at any moment. I got out of bed and went outside just wearing slippers and a morning coat. Indeed there was this lovely little foal barely able to stand up and take its first suckle.

Mural commissioned for public school in Westerbork. 1976

Mural commissioned for public school in Westerbork. 1976

Sorry for the B/W picture only. It was a triptych painted in acrylic..

I don’t know why an afterbirth had to be hung up from a tree away from ground hugging predators such a  canny fox or, indeed a wolf or bear. It was a tradition steeped in folklore and we apparently had chosen our farm in a village that were the harbingers and last owners of some very ancient habits which must not be disregarded.  We, after all were living here as strangers and really almost imposters more than traditional owners and had to tread carefully with respect to keeping their traditions. I stumbled about found the afterbirth and flung it over the large elm next to the farm house. Both mother and baby Shetland were doing fine. Our neighbours were happy too.

Teaching adults letting-go. Put charcoal to paper. ( Auto-biography)

August 10, 2015
Our farm house and sheep pen.

Our farm house and sheep pen.

The good news came about as predicted within a couple of weeks. Just when some other, even better tiding, knocked on barn’s door. The area where we had bought our second farm was near a village that was set and artificially kept in the 1800’s. It is called Orvelte and is a museum village. Some of the people living there were artists on the Government salary but, as they were given an old farm-house as well as a salary, also expected to produce art sympathetic to the bygone era of horse-carts, peat cutting, thatching, smithing of horse shoes, thrashing of hay and each other. Each Saturday afternoon there would be a village dance which tourists in strange shorts would photograph with large cameras and even larger lenses.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orvelte

Our daughters, Susanna and Natasha, being enrolled in the local school. (their second Dutch school) quickly made friends. Both started to speak fluent Dutch at an astonishing speed. Through those friends we met some parents including a couple that lived in Orvelte and who made pottery. The pottery was in keeping with this historic village. Good solid salt-glazed stoneware. We bought a set of cups & saucers, a bulky vase, wine goblets and large serving dish. None have broken so far. The potter and his wife made a living from the potters wheel and also enjoyed the Government Artist salary. It turned out he was as fed up with his conveyer belt production of stone pottery as I was with the previous clock dials with seagulls in endless flight.

The potter and his wife soon joined another couple whereby the husband claimed to be a sculptor. He even managed to get the local shire to put up signage along the village roads pointing to his house with studio.  When I visited him and after introduction asked if he would be so kind as to show me some of his work, he obliged. He showed me a glass case with a lid behind which he kept some drawings of work he had done at The Art Academie years before. And that was that! Not a single work, not even a block of stone or lump of clay laying about. He normally charged an entrance fee to tourists to see his drawings inside this glass case with a lid. When he spotted my Kombi he quickly asked me if I would be so kind to pick up a wardrobe somewhere. I did. Helvi wasn’t impressed. But I explained he did not charge me to look at his drawings.

Even so we needed friends and invited them for an afternoon. He ate all of our peanuts. He must have been so hungry. His hand kept throwing those nuts back into his tilted upward mouth. It is strange how those memories keep sticking. I mean we did not mind the peanut frenzy, but were just somewhat surprised. Heaven knows what others make of us?  “Gerard is really weird and strange”, they could well whisper behind closed doors!

Another couple we tried to befriend was a printmaker. I knocked on his door. He just poked his red face through a window and asked what I wanted. I explained we were from Australia seeking friendship. “I am an artists too”, I said bravely while nodding affirmatively and somewhat conspiratorially.   “Oh,” he said without hesitation,  ” I am having a fight with my wife”,  “I can’t see you.”  He slammed the window shut.  Marital fights in Holland are just as prevalent as anywhere. Just because they ride bikes, eat herrings and live abstemious lives, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer marital whiplash at times. It is universal.

We did keep a few couples as friends including the potter couple of stone-ware. He worked as a part time teacher  and informed me the school for adult education was looking for a teacher in the creative arts especially painting and drawing.  I got the job. This was the other good news I was alluding to at the beginning of this piece. But that wasn’t the end of happy and more happy! I won a commission to make a mural for a yet to be built school in the small town where my daughters attended school.  This town is named Westerbork.

It all came good.

The artist as teacher. (Auto- biography)

August 9, 2015

After the adieu to the imitation Dutch Grandfather Clock period with the last box of painted clock dials being dropped off at the imitation clock factory,  I did finally apply for the ‘Dutch Artist’ salary.  I filled in  forms with proof of my birth and educational levels. My quantity surveying qualification could easily throw this whole undertaking askew. I had to tread carefully! It was something to ponder about .

What about if the recommendation came back suggesting I should work in an office working out bills of quantities instead of doing art? I knew the Dutch bureaucracy might like art but they also had a very practical side to their culture. They could easily tell me to get a real job. I had nightmares of having gone and left Gertrude Cottage in Australia, travel to Holland itching to paint full time AND finally have an income, only to end up wearing a suit to an office and sadly having to pore over bills of quantities, working out quantities for cement or sewer pipes for the latest and world’s best re-cycling plant.

On the other hand I did have proof with the success of being ‘hung’ at the NSW State Gallery and a couple of prizes at Australian Municipal competitions. Through a friend I had also managed to show some of my work at a gallery in Japan’s Kyoto. I wasn’t totally unprepared. Even so, I decided sagely to remain mum about my Quantity surveying qualification, my previous bank experiences or my prowess in the decorating business with the buff coloured letterheads and matching envelopes.

Was I dishonest or not somewhat duplicitous? Many artists do other jobs, provide for a family and do their art? Why even worry about that? Wasn’t it always a kind of wild-haired bohemian wearing a beret at a rakish angle that created? If it became too hard he would simply disregard spouses and crying babies. He, and sometime a she, would walk out, satchel, easel and pallet on shoulder, whistling in the wind, going up and beyond hill and gone forever.  New daisies and  fragrant meadows were beckoning and to be explored!  Many ‘real artists’ would leave a trail of relationship disasters with endlessly  and chaotically fathering children of many sexes. Desperate love affairs were obligatory in most that claim to possess creative powers. Leaving spouses was the very essence and proof  of creative forces at work.  History is full of the wrath of partners betrayed.  Daggers were raised and many artists lives ended painfully, their canvasses slashed. Today, the Family Court sorts it all out but it  costs an arm and a leg just the same as before  with the knife. Of course, the ‘real artist’ does not care. He continues on creating,. whistling.

Alas, I loved H and

On the farm in Holland

On the farm in Holland

my family dearly and applied for this salary that would give me freedom to paint my pictures. I filled in the forms, submitted some of my work. I was asked to wait in a hallway with other applicants. Some were a bit nervous. You wondered what discussions were taking place. I just hoped they would not get the paintings mixed up. The man who accepted my paintings did look askance and somewhat bored. I suppose if one did that for a job, it might not be all that different from painting seagulls. Would he go home to his partner and regale about the paintings or sculptures and ceramics he had seen that day. I mean, day in day out?  I did hear some laughter coming out of the room. Were they ridiculing some of the work. I had a peek at one painters paintings and they were all of large oysters. He was obviously taken by the sea and its creative forces. Why not? An oyster is such a magnificent work on its own.

At the end of it all, we were asked to take our work back and we would be told by letter. It would be a nervous few weeks.

Repetition always results in ennui. ( Auto-biography)

August 6, 2015
Family living in Holland

Family living in Holland

 

It seems that repetition is always present no matter where or how we live. I find myself queuing at the supermarket almost daily. I still hold out hope for something to happen there. It never does. I scan other peoples shopping lists and so wish for some answers. I can see by shoppers’ eyes, they too want something more than the repetitiousness of life. A kind of unexpected surprise. The cashiers put a positive spin on things. They were told to ask for the well being of the shopper. “How are you?” And I answer, “great, thank you”. I encourage and nurture the repeating of a stupefying routine. We are all in cahoots. Yet, the sun is shining and the croissants are on special. Three for $1.99.

Was it therefore inevitable that the painting of clock dials would come to an end sooner than anticipated? Even the move to another farm to the East of Holland could only hold off the end of my clock painting career for just a while. My tolerance for routine I never mastered. Some people thrive on knowing exactly what to expect next day, next year, next decade and get nervous when they don’t. Of course, we all accept some routine. We shop and pay bills. We fill the car with petrol and stare at the bowser with keen intent. At the super market I play a silly game with Helvi and tell her the amount that our shopping will come to. I just scan all the goods on the conveyer belt and make a guess. I tell Helvi and the cashier the amount before the scanning takes place. Helvi rolls her eyes. When I get close, it makes my morning and I smile. It helps to pass the time! The cashier gives a smile too. They are all so brave.

One morning when I had set up the clock dials all in a row on the work-table, I could not get to paint another seagull. Helvi and I had done at least six months of clock faces at fifty a week. That is at least twelve hundred clock faces and at roughly four seagulls a piece, amounted to 4800 hundred seagulls, give and take a few. ( I had reduced seagulls of late. A clear sign that the end was nigh.) I packed the box of dials and drove back to the clock factory to give notice. I was jubilant and had put on the car radio. The manager understood. He too suffered the same lethargy and had a large family. He took satisfaction from being a good provider putting food on the table. He also used to go fishing in the week-ends. “It brings me peace,” he said smiling a bit. Lots of Dutch people go fishing and also like doing cross-word puzzles.  It helps and makes life bearable.

We are all so brave.

The artist as employee in making new antique clocks. ( auto-biography)

August 5, 2015
IMG_20140627_0003

The VW Kombi

The first weeks were spent getting good bedding and turning the heating on. It was early May and still surprisingly cold.  We enrolled both our daughters in the local kindergarten school.  Our son  stayed home as he was still a baby.  Soon after we bought a VW Kombi bus. The VW bus  popularity was a world-wide phenomenon. There was an unwritten law that drivers of those VW buses would dip their headlights while passing each other on the road. Most often those drivers were anti-war. Both sexes grew long hair, smoked bongs, drank cheap red wine and listened to Bridge over troubled Waters.

We also had to establish our citizenship and get enrolled into all the different levels of the Dutch bureaucracy which is fairly complicated but generous. Child endowment, unemployment relief, all sorts of taxation requirements, getting banking accounts fixed. All went reasonably smooth and when things had settled I enrolled myself at an employment office seeking work as an ‘artist’. Much to my surprise and within a few days I was notified about a vacancy for an artist. An artist skilled in landscape techniques. It was about a twenty minute drive from where we were living. I was so intrigued. Can you believe this?

I turned up for the interview which was at a factory that made imitation grandfather clocks. Those clocks were apparently selling like hot cakes, exported world wide, especially the ‘Friesian stand-up clock’ with a swinging pendulum and hand painted clock dial. All had to be genuinely ‘hand painted’. This is where the job of the artist came in, specifically my skill as the artist landscape or sky/sea scape specialist. If possible it would be best if the clock dials were painted in a genuine ‘style’. A kind of mixture between a Hobbema or Vermeer would do.

I felt that it might be well worth the experience and after whipping out a quick little sample of a wind-mill and some sea-gulls was given the job. From what I could see on some of the clocks with hand-painted dials the previous painter wasn’t really skilled in faking an old master in any genre. The factory making the clocks was actually part of a much larger consortium doing all sorts of things including exporting tulips to America. I was in good hands. The salary was not bad either. Remember how I had taken lessons from Ronald Peters at the Parramatta ambulance hall in the late fifties early sixties in painting landscapes with a receding sky and dappled effects on gum tree trunks? Well, all this was now coming to fruition at the clock factory.

Those clocks were really amazing. The actual body of the grandfather clock was made from something that was poured in a mould. When taken out of the mould a brown stain was sprayed over it and, lo and behold, it looked like ‘genuine’ oak’. The actual grain of the oak was part of the mould. Amazing fake that could not be improved upon. Of course, today everything is fake. Reading only yesterday on a bottle of maple syrup at Aldi in small lettering  ‘flavoured’.

At the same time as my clock dial painting career took off, we also bought an original Dutch farm house with a soaring upwards part tiled and part thatched roof typical of that Northern area. Many traditional old Dutch farms had both people and cows inside during winter under the same roof. Hay that was cut during summer was stored inside together with cows and people. One reason for those high roofs was to stack the hay. It was all very cosy, intimate and above all in winter nice and warm. The cows heated the place up better than central heating ever could. Of course we did not keep cows and did have central heating installed.

The clock dial painting went very well. The management was very happy. A lot depended on the attractiveness of the clock face. They were bought solely on their looks.  The seagulls especially were very real. The manager said ‘they seem to follow me around the room’. I was emboldened to such a degree I managed to do the production of clock dial painting at home on the farm. Once a week I would drive over and hand the works of art in and pick up a box of blank  clock faces in return. As long as I did about fifty dials a week, all would be happy. I had achieved a fairly relaxed way of earning a salary and as yet had no need to apply for the Government artist salary. That was yet to come!

Of course, the clocks were super kitsch and some might query the moral fibre of someone happily doing that, but…who was I to not experience the life of a paid artist. Did not Jan Steen (1626-1679) run a tavern, had nine children and two wives.? What about Pieter Brueghel before (1525-1569), with his rejected ‘The Blind leading the Blind?’ There is hope for all Dutchmen!

We all make the best of circumstance.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 465 other followers