First Lessons

"Tree Forms" 1987 - Some of my first pictures inspired by The Cockatoo Tree painting by my father
“Tree Forms” 1987 – Some of my first pictures inspired by The Cockatoo Tree painting by my father

My desire to pursue visual art having taken hold, I asked my brother Philip to teach me everything our father had taught him about art. He began by instilling in me the great wonder of New Epoch Art. In a motel room in Castlemaine while visiting the memorial exhibition, Philip brought to life in conversation our father’s ideas and dreams and in this way became my tutor. He had this knack of talking big, of making the world seem obtainable and the highest aspiration a natural pursuit. I was immersed in creating a set of pen drawings influenced by ‘The Cockatoo Tree’, a painting I had watched taking shape two years earlier. I would come home from school and have a look at what had changed that day: a turquoise sky over fiery mountains; the posture of the birds and personality in their eyes; the characteristic scrolls for roots that now appeared in my own strange interpretations. Showing the roots of the tree was a device he had learnt from his friend and mentor, Irish artist Gerard Dillon when living in England in the 1940’s. I developed my own story surrounding the groupings of birds, the lovers; master and apprentice; wide eyed youth; first flight and reverie; each representing different stages of life and the diversity of relationships. The pen drawings I made also came to represent life force in transition, the curling forms indicative of the passage of time that I equated with the growth rings visible on a salami cut tree stump.

"The Cockatoo Tree" 1985 oil on canvas 120 x 110 cm
“The Cockatoo Tree” 1985 oil on canvas 120 x 110 cm

One day Philip observed me starting a new drawing, using a series of filled in shapes sprouting from the centre of the page. As I joined these shapes together creating a web like effect, Philip stopped me and sensing my readiness to explore the drawn line further, introduced me to the concept of ‘Linear Extension’. This had been where my father had begun his journey as an experimentalist on the path to creating a new form of art. By drawing a line in a rhythmic manner with peaks and troughs made with angles and curves, then interlocking a second lineal sequence, a whole series of non-geometric shapes are created, all related to each other, but unique at the same time. I then began new works that delved further into the imagery that had surrounded me all my life, beginning with two drawings named after the piece I was learning on the violin at the time, “Preludio and Capriccio” by Vivaldi. It was like discovering an old friend, only this time, I was its master. This was the first practical lesson I received, and Philip despite his at times, didactic delivery was by no means over-bearing or intrusive. He left me to my own devices for the most part, to make my own discoveries in learning about New Epoch Art and image making in general.

"The Growing" 1987 drawings hinting at the direction to follow.
“The Growing” 1987 drawings hinting at the direction to follow.
"Linear Extensions" compressed charcoal o paper 1987. earning to embue the line with character - to draw the line.
“Linear Extensions” compressed charcoal o paper 1987. Learning to embue the line with character – to draw the line.

The pursuit of this form of painting has come to hold a deep significance for me. It represents a link with my father, my family and the values and aspirations that guided his life and shaped my formative years. It also fulfils in me the urge to investigate new realms of creative endeavour. My father’s aspiration to contribute to the idea of art itself, left an indelible mark. The concept of Notation Painting was his greatest achievement in terms of originality and remains the foundation of my own visual expression and a wellspring of inspiration pricking up the ever-young spirit of creation. But the thing that shaped my feelings at this time was the connection between those drawings and the paintings on the walls, and a sense of belonging and of home. That feeling has outlasted any four walls I’ve called home since. Though I carry those rooms around with me, they would simply be anonymous real estate without the art work. When an old friend is hung to cover a blank wall, something magical occurs, the transformation is instant and a sense of home pervades the empty space. As my Mother once said, ‘We furnished the place with paintings’.

Author: crowcries

Euan Benjamin Graham I decided to become an artist when I was 14 years old in 1987. I have pursued my vocation with dedication and a complete single mindedness. Pictures are like people, they have their own life. I have embraced the streets recently as a venue because pictures need a lover, and artists become intolerably frustrated without an audience.

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