The painting above is a beautiful and lovingly Australian painting by the folk art painter, Irvine Homer, called The Birthday Party (1970, 55cm x 61 cm, oil on board). The father comes home, in through the old gate to be surprised by a big family party with games in the yard and dancing on the veranda decorated with balloons. While we only see the back of his hat his all-embracing arms express gladness and love. He seems to be embracing the whole landscape before him. I feel it expresses Irvine's love for the country he traveled over during his very difficult but rich life. After having been a drover, a shearer, a hole digger, a swagman during the Great Depression, worked on the railways, worked a little bush sawmill, been in the rodeo....etc he took to painting when illness struck him and he was no longer able to stand at the age of 35.
This is his description of his painting Summer by the Hawkesbury, "I used a magnifying glass when I painted the little fences around every house. The poultry farm, the oyster leases, all had something to do with me. Sometimes I'd get a job cracking and bagging oysters. In summer there was always a bushfire burning somewhere in the distance, so I put that in too. There's a petrol station with a shop in one corner, where I always bought my tobacco. I thought of how I'd put them together and make them into a real place. Not a real place. In my memory it's a real place, the mighty Hawkesbury (River) in all its glory. Brooklyn. And the poultry farm. I swiped one of his chooks (chickens)."
That doesn't sound un-Australian to me! :) He loved painting and he loved to study the works of other Australian painters too. His poetic nature seems very Australian to me, so I hope that Australians will joyfully embrace the lyrical nature that runs through our blood, and openly embrace the arts as that storehouse of the generational spirit of our nation.
I came across Irvine Homer and many other wonderful Australian folk art painters in a book I found from the last Life-Line Bookfair, called Australian Primitive Painters (Geoffrey Lehman, University of Queensland Press, 1977). I've had the painting above open in my studio for some months now, and I've been waiting for just the right time to share it with you.
On a recent visit to shibori artist Margaret Barnett's house I was struck by a piece of shibori she had made ready for future textile work (see the fabric above). It reminded me vividly of The Birthday Party in its character. Margaret explained to me how she had used rusted railway spikes she had collected from her travels to the Outback to dye with, leaving rich rust foxing over the antique handkerchief linen that had also been dyed with indigo. My mind was already dreaming away as I clutched the delicate cloth. She saw how overwhelmed I was with it and she generously gave me the only piece she had! I told her of the painting I was thinking of and how it was speaking to me to make some sort of doll, connected with the painting and this cloth....I just didn't know what it would be.
Looking around at all the treasures she had collected from amazing trips around the world, I saw a doll from Peru that had been roughly made with scraps of fabric over a base of bound grass. It must have struck me as when I went home, with a huge bag of textile goodies from Margaret, I made up a doll using mainly materials that Margaret had given me. Blending the primitive style of the Peruvian doll with the image of The Birthday Party had a very unusual result as you can see from the doll above. I've called it a spirit doll, and this one an Australian Spirit Doll. It will be a gift for Margaret to thank her for all the wonderful goodies she brings me...but shhh! don't tell her, it's going to be a surprise ;)
This week I want to leave you with a quote by William Blake who wrote, "Poetry Fettered, Fetters the Human Race. Nations are Destoy'd or Florish in proportion as Their Poetry, Painting and Music are Destoy'd or Florish! The Primeval State of Man was Wisdom, Art, and Science." Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804.