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June Issue 2008
A View from Down Under on
The Loss of a Forest
by Judith McGrath
You don't know him; he was born, lived, painted, and taught art in my town. Years ago he traveled through Europe with his young family, absorbed its cultural past and present, came home again to live in a small community in the tree covered hills, shared what he'd learned with his students, and continued to develop his own unique art style.
His impact on the art world in this town is subtle albeit far reaching. His work enhances university walls, government halls, corporate collections and suburban homes. Then in his late sixties, having battled the illness long enough, David gave up the fight.
He was one of nature's gentlemen, generous to a fault, respected by all and loved by many. His funeral was attended by important people and humble folk, art appreciators and astute collectors, a politician or two, numerous past students, and just about everyone he had stopped to help along the way. The simple chapel was overflowing with tearful mourners, every one of them sincere in their grief.
He was an excellent artist yet humble in his talent. I recall attending an opening of one of his exhibitions when I happily purchased the exhibit (painting) I fell in love with at first sight. When I told the artist, he insisted on seeing which one I'd selected. "Ohh, that one." he said half to himself, then turned to me and asked nervously; "Do you really like it?" When I assured him I most certainly did, a broad smile lit up his face. But then he was always genuinely surprised when his shows were sell-outs or when he got a good review.
It's been over three years since his death and the visual arts community continues to miss David and the love of life that imbued his art. After sufficient time had elapsed, the State Gallery was approached to host a retrospective of the artist's work, and rejected the request. I don't know their reason for dismissing the chance to celebrate the life and work of one of this town's own highly respected artists, other then the fact that he never bothered to chase fame by begging for representation in a major city on the other side of the continent, or overseas.
Thankfully, a small but vibrant arts centre in the community where the artist lived and worked stepped in to present an excellent exhibition of David's working drawings, quick sketches, and a cache of finished paintings that have never been seen outside his studio. It was a beautiful and informative display that was attended by a record number of visitors during the month it was on. Those of us who knew David feel he'd be happier with having his work displayed in the warm and friendly atmosphere of the local art centre, rather then in the cold and officious mood of the State Gallery.
Well I'm not as generous or even-tempered as the artist was. Yes, I can accept that a State Gallery has a scheduled calendar put in place however they could have found a small gallery or corridor to display a few paintings in tribute to the artist's passing, considering what he has contributed to the state of the Arts in this State.
And I can understand why commercial galleries would knock back hosting an exhibition where no works are for sale, after all they are in business to make money. But there are a few commercial galleries that have showed and sold David's work over the years, and made a tidy profit from doing so, that could have stepped forward to provide a level of posthumous prestige to the life's work of this generous man. Especially as they continue to profit from the many artists he has helped and/or influenced.
Except for the few who are promoted by those with a financial (rather then artistic or cultural) interest, many artists live and die with little fanfare. Still they continue to pursue their creative discipline with the understanding that music, literature and image making encourages and defines our humanity. After all, Humans are the only creatures on this Earth that make Art, for no purpose other then its aesthetic value.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of interviewing many practicing artists (including David) and I'm always appreciative of how most (like David) just want to communicate the energy that emanates from their subject (portrait, landscape, or still life) to the viewer. It's a kind of magic.
I firmly believe that when a creative artist uses his/her talent to explore, discover, amaze and/or ignite the intellect, emotion, curiosity and/or wonder in another being, then that artist should be celebrated in life, mourned in death, and remembered in history. We should do this because all artists celebrate their humanity and, through their work, invite us to the party. When will we learn that when an honest artist (famous or not) dies, it is akin to the loss of a whole forest?
P.S. Yesterday the coordinator of the art centre that hosted David's retrospective called me and asked if I'd write a little something that will help her get a grant to send the exhibition around Western Australia. She asked for support from a few prominent artists of David's generation and they all jumped at the chance to help celebrate his life's work. I'll let you know if she gets the grant but I'm not holding my breath.
Judith McGrath lives in Kalamunda, Western Australia, 25 minutes east of Perth. She received a BA in Fine Art and History from the University of Western Australia. McGrath lectured in Art History and Visual Literacy at various colleges around the Perth area, and was an art reviewer for The Sunday Times and The Western Review both published in the Perth area. McGrath is currently a freelance writer and reviewer for various art magazines in Australia. She also co-ordinates the web site Art Seen in Western Australia found at (www.artseeninwa.com).
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