Feelings that surround memories are ethereal things. They sparkle and glow in the thoughtful night, becoming bigger and more powerful than the events that engendered their being, or gradually lose the potency that made them so attractive in the first place – a vaguely numb glow, passing with time and imprinted on the retina following that indelible summer. The feelings that I associate with my decision to become a visual artist remain particularly significant. I remember sitting on the floor in the study of the family home in Canterbury, my head buried in folder after folder of my father’s drawings. I entered this world – the vestiges of a life, turning the pages with due respect, tissue separating the papers yellow patina. This had been the place where as a family, we gathered to watch T.V, while he would quietly work on a canvas in the corner. One of my eyes would continually return to the head of the brush where the real theatre was taking shape. A twin fluoro flooded the room, and the crowded bookshelf gave it a scholastic air. I knew the dust sleeves by heart but not what they contained. It would have felt cold without the clutter, with walls slightly too high, the gas burner struggling to heat below the picture rail, and beneath the wall paper embossed with a muted spherical flower was hidden a cat and a fiddle and other nursery rhyme characters – echoes from an earlier time. This was a world both familiar and yet a mystery, representing the indelible significance of adult achievement. To say that the room still held my fathers presence after his passing would not be alluding to the supernatural. It simply was a family room that belonged to us all and reflected our lives, a stack of paintings as much part of that environment as a coffee table and television. It was an essential part of us, and the place where I gained a deeper appreciation of my father, the artist Peter Benjamin Graham (1925-87).
The year was 1987 and I was 14 years old. I wanted desperately to fill the void that his recent passing had left, so I turned to his artwork to seek solace. I was captivated by the way the lines curl and collide to describe clouds; the smudge of a feature to intimate an emotion or the cock of a wrist to suggest a passing secret or secret soliloquy – so much to learn and so much to live up to.
My journey as an artist began in this way, looking through folder after folder of my father’s drawings, with a growing urge to have a go. It was not enough just to look – I had to do as well. That had always been my nature. As a child fixated on cricket, I could only sit and watch for so long before I had to take my bat and ball out the back to re-enact my own test match beneath the canopy of bamboo and banksias. I could spend hours banging a decrepit tennis ball against the back of half a kitchen hutch that had been pulled out of my grandparent’s home some years earlier. I had complete teams of imaginary players, each with a performance record, batting average and unique style that would come in and out of form according to whim, and the understood rhythm of play. The importance of this inner world had already been established through creative play and a yearning for time away from others, to indulge my imaginings. I was ready to take seriously the idea of becoming an artist and my circumstances gave rise to a need to hold this definite objective. That year I decided what I wanted to do with my life – what I wanted to be.