No one was more surprised than me when at age 50 I suddenly started to paint.
I’d always appreciated modern art, but I hadn’t had the time to even consider painting.
I didn’t realize that I was setting out on an entirely new journey to a radically different destination, one that would lead to exciting challenges and continuing sources of satisfaction.
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Society has absurdly low expectations of over 50’s. We don’t expect people to establish new careers so late in life. But having done so, I hope that the story of my journey may inspire others to persevere.
I trained as an Electrical Engineer in the 1980’s and then did a Masters of Applied Science before joining a telecommunications research group. While there, I undertook a doctorate in computer science.
This was all a far cry from art, and to keep me time-poor for years to come, I’d started a software company while raising a young family in the early 90’s. Whenever I travelled for business, I’d make time to visit modern art museums where the art continued to strongly resonate with me.
By 2010 I’d sold the business and started doing short courses to learn essential painting techniques. I signed up for a year of night school at the Victorian College of the Arts and took tuition from an experienced Melbourne artist.
It then took years of experimentation to explore various media, subject matters and painting styles to find my niche. There were times when I stopped painting for long periods, discouraged, confused and frustrated by my early results.
Over time I came to realize that I really enjoyed skating back and forth across the boundary between pure abstraction and figuration. While I enjoy abstraction as an end in itself, I’ve found that my current and recent works have gravitated to either be representative, or to use abstract elements to directly depict figurative subjects.
In short, my abstracts have a conceptual base and specific subject matters. Let me give you some examples. Paintings like Mourning After are about forming human bonds in times of isolation, while Intimacy, Full Term, and On Yellow all reflect on essential human traits and how they change as we age but not over the ages.
My figurative paintings tend to be inspired by notable people, places and events. Like my abstracts, they feature bold vibrant colours. Some of them feature large colour fields but I often revert to a very gestural style employing short flicks and dabs that express emphasis and balance the flow of the works.
My current fascination is with portraits comprised of abstract elements. Increasingly, I study the life stories of my subjects to find the elements I want to feature and develop. My subjects range from artists and world leaders to myself and the people in my life. Examples include Francoise Gilot at 101, Mother Teresa, political leaders and self portraits.
Increasingly, I’m producing collections of related works that span multiple canvases, each developing different aspects of the original inspiration.
To varying degrees, my paintings deal with or comment on contemporary, social and existential issues. Topics like climate change, the pandemic, racism, ruthlessness and many other innate human and inhuman follies have all featured in recent works. While some of these topics may sound bleak, my works remain characteristically bright and optimistic.
When I first started to exhibit, I was worried about the diversity in styles and subject matters. But the feedback from the public has been excellent – they comment on the range of subject matters and the visceral impact of the strong colour contrasts and marks used. Seen collectively on mass, they become an immersive experience.
I hope that my journey and art both resonate with you.
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