Memorial Exhibition

Memorial exhibition held at the Lyttleton Gallery in Castlemaine, Victoria in June 1987
Memorial exhibition held at the Lyttleton Gallery in Castlemaine, Victoria in June 1987

The next December, Douglass Green and Paul Cavell, artist friends who had moved with their families from Melbourne to live in Castlemaine, suggested my father contact Jan Martin, an art dealer and appraiser who immediately came to our Canterbury home to meet him. She described feeling terribly impressed by his presentation of a life’s work in images, many of which had never been seen before. He was very nervous about the encounter and brought each piece out in an order that was carefully considered. Jan later described her first impressions as seeing him as a bit of a Lair. My father had pulled out all the stops for that occasion, knowing intuitively that it was his last chance to shift his art into a more public arena. He had kept it very close to his chest for so many years and harboured a fear of being in some way pigeon-holed despite often expressing the frustration of being his own collector. Upon the sensible reassurance that Jan was the right person, he had agreed to the meeting. Jan did not get to see him again and her next visit was in the following May, with Rosalind to select the images making up the memorial exhibition, held at her own Gallery in Castlemaine.

Jan Martin, Philip Graham and Rosalind Hollinrake choosing pictures for the memorial exhibition
Jan Martin, Philip Graham and Rosalind Hollinrake choosing pictures for the memorial exhibition

Jan was a thoughtful person, sparing with words in a way which obliged one to fill in the gaps left by a pregnant pause. Her belief in my father’s work never faltered over the next 20 years, which contributed greatly to our ability to ‘keep the faith’, despite many setbacks along the way. But it was that first exhibition that has remained a seminal experience for me, and a life- changing one.

Before the opening in the Lyttleton Gallery
Before the opening in the Lyttleton Gallery

 

Jan’s gallery in Lyttleton Street Castlemaine had a neat modern feel, with three main exhibition spaces best suited to small intimate viewings. Downstairs, she had a living space from which emanated the smells of hot broth, unfamiliar herbs and dry cat food. Jan had held a viewing for her clients previously and by the day of the official opening, a third of the works on display had already been sold. That afternoon, the small gallery swelled with people, and an excitement was palpable as I struggled to take photographs amongst the sea of heads, arms, feet and faces. Our mother had given my older brother Philip a firm warning not to drink at the opening, but my own indiscretion went unnoticed until a 7th glass of champagne sent me toppling exposing my intoxication. By then the quality of my photography had been reduced to capturing half faces and crooked doorways. I was overwhelmed, and so ushered to a couch in Jan’s den below, where the room swirled around me. I watched a black cat slink along a ledge in pursuit of a willy wag tail, listened intently to the hum of activity above.

The Opening
The Opening

OPENING_001 OPENING_007

After the opening had concluded we walked down Lyttleton Street to a nearby tavern/ family restaurant. Everybody was in a daze, such a high I had not known. Over dinner, conversation was buoyant, however, at some point the tenor changed abruptly. I was only slightly aware of what was happening at the time, but Rosalind, a person I had only ever felt affection for had begun to spin off into some alcoholic vitriol describing my father as a closet drunk and the rest of us as mad, gloating over the spoils while the body was still warm in the grave. The success of the exhibition had taken us by surprise, so much so that my mother requested a suspension of sales, as she felt it was getting out of control. The role that Rosalind had played in sitting with my father in those last months and admiring his art works with devotion and generous attention to detail can never be underestimated. It gave him a deep satisfaction in what he had achieved and a window into how it would reach other people and fulfil the great promise that had always lingered uneasily. It was later revealed to me that Rosalind’s abrupt turn of face was in part due to my mother’s reluctance to continue financing an open ended book project. This in hindsight may have been a strategic disaster, but it simply reflected our vulnerable financial situation having lost the main bread winner of the family.

It felt strange to see pictures that I had lived with, in a domestic situation, all of a sudden line gallery walls and gain admiration from what seemed to me at the time to be thousands of people. A new sense of importance seemed to have floated down and rested uneasily on my slight shoulders. In the face of great loss, this new thing had emerged and in its presence I found comfort and fortitude. Placed in context, it was hardly a touring exhibition of the regional galleries, but it felt larger than life. I had always loved those paintings, they were a part of me, but it was only when they were exhibited that I gained an outside perspective, that they were something of value that needed to be seen, to be shared, to be acknowledged as an important contribution to art history no less. The Castlemaine exhibition received significant attention. After a telephone interview with my mother, John Lahey in his column ‘Lahey at Large’ in The Age, wrote a large piece “Quiet Artists Life Revealed’ which emphasised the unpretentious and secretive nature of the man, and was well beyond our modest expectations at that time.

Scan

The Last Holiday

Phillip Island 1974 Peter Benjamin Graham pen and ink on paper 55 x 37 cm An image of the sandy track which lead the beech.
Phillip Island 1974 Peter Benjamin Graham pen and ink on paper 55 x 37 cm
An image of the sandy track over hung with Banksias and Ti-Tree which lead down to the beech.

There was a vague awareness that something momentous was approaching, beginning in the Christmas break straddling 1985 and 1986. We were once more heading down to Phillip Island, a journey this time heralded as our last holiday as a complete family unit. I took this news with suitably sombre consideration, my siblings were older, and it was my understanding that such a trip would soon no longer be either practicable or desirable. My family had been going down to the Island since the late 60’s, initially pitching a tent on the land owned by Grahame and Inge King, old artist friends of my fathers. It was soon discovered that two houses down was a holiday shack owned by John Swan, another old acquaintance and this modest fibro cement dwelling was to become my family’s regular holiday haunt. As a child, words could not express the momentous thrill of entering the undulating dirt road that was Woodlands Avenue in the area of Silver Leaves, a short walk from the protected beach looking across to French Island on the North side of the Island. The path was over hung at every point by the same tall silver beauty of the banksias and tee-tree that had inspired my father to produce a glorious suite of paintings and drawings in the 1970’s, and importantly became the subject that was to best illustrate his experimental art ideas then known as ‘Notation Painting’. These works were literally a flowering of his creative spirit, where foreshore danced across the waters of Westernport, and light touched the waves revealing sea music that spoke in colliding delineations tangling with filigree clouds in poetic movement across the sky. “Glimpses of the Sea”, one of three larger canvases from this series hung pride of place above the dining table at Canterbury for many years, a work that even my father admitted was aging well. Contained within its blueness were all the feelings I associated with the Island.

"Glimpses of the Sea" 1977 acrylic on canvas 200 x 240 cm
“Glimpses of the Sea” 1977 acrylic on canvas 200 x 240 cm

The summer of that last family holiday seemed to stretch for an eternity the days lingering lazily and emotions ebbing and flowing as if following the pattern of the tide. The rituals that lent structure to our lives were temporarily put aside and everybody seemed to visibly shed layers, leaving them to dry with a salty crust under dappled sunlight. Television was replaced by a pack of cards, dartboard and scrabble; water for hot chocolate; violin practice and homework for a cricket bat and pocket knife. I discovered a new independence, a new desire for exploration amidst the vines and ivy that strangled the under story of the foreshore. At the base of a slight ravine nestled half way between the beach and the Swan’s place, I poked about for an hour or so one morning among the remains of a campfire. It seemed impossibly lush to have been intentionally lit, and among the scraps I recognised an odd ensemble of tinnies, broken venetians, canvas backed chairs with beach stripes mangled into sculptural confusion, a few swollen paper backs and a collection of baby’s plush chew toys with partially melted plastic protrusions. The contrast of these forms against the surrounding glossy green was quite startling and it became a secret place I returned to for solitude over the weeks of the holiday, each time finding a new small treasure to collect.

rRain and Ti-Tree 1975 mixed media on paper
Rain and Ti-Tree 1975 mixed media on paper

Every time we visited the Island we encountered the rains. It wasn’t really a problem, as the little shack was comfortable, and despite the close proximity, everyone seemed to find their own space. My brother Philip spent one morning drawing with white chalk on the glass back door; a web like configuration that he explained was a thematic picture. I watched with puzzlement for some time, and eventually my curiosity about how easily it might rub off got the better of me. I also made some drawings, a fish representing a Toady transformed into a predator trapped in the shallow pools left behind by the receding tide, and a version of the mural above the top bunk that my sister occupied. It was an authentic hippie masterpiece with a central figure with long combed hair obscuring one side of her face and a ball and chain inscribed with free love and peace slogans. Other words and critters surrounded her intoxicated repose and it represented a whole world of discovery and interpretation. Another artwork at the foot of my bunk was made up of a series of colourful drips that had been allowed to find their own course from one end of the board to the other without human intervention apparently.

It didn’t matter that the mattresses were old and the bed springs noisy or that the fly screens had gaps that frequently allowed a hungry mosquito to escape the buzzing mob and take pot shots at limbs pulled out to escape the Furness of the sleeping bag. The mossies could have been the death of me, “because your blood is sweet” my mother explained. Just being there however was intoxication enough to forget the rudimentary nature of the place and its inconveniences. It was a part of its charm and mystery and waking up to the distant rumblings of waves and the languid scrape of slippers on lino was enough to bring a restorative calmness to the family. There was a visitor’s book bearing testament to the significance it held for all the families invited to stay, and it was part of the ritual to read through the entries before adding our own addition at the end of each visit. The house was made up of two main areas separated by curtains; the children’s bedroom with two bunk beds and a large maroon trunk that could have been pulled from a Spanish galleon containing bed linen; and the main room with a small annex with another bunk (for parents), dominated by the dining table and pot belly. I loved running my finger nails along the grooves of the yellow lining of the large table in the middle of the room at which we would happily consume fish ‘n chips washed down with lemonade. The laundry area was like a time capsule, with an antique wringer and a variety of receptacles and lanterns also bearing the shape of antiquity. By the glass windows and door at the back was another trunk designated for games and puzzles that contained a collection of red head match boxes, one for each change in design over preceding decades, and this over looked a bird bath that saw a staggering variety of brightly feathered visitors that always had us diving for the bird ‘book’, for purposes of identification. John’s wife Ailsa Swan was a keen bird watcher and was a prominent figure in nature conservation on the Island.

After a week of beach combing we headed for the Cows golf course, a sprawling few miles of lush green bordered by the traditional sliver grey of the coastal flora. Golf had been a long-standing passion for my father, and he took every opportunity to frequent local courses and instil his keenness in my brother and I, believing it to be of bonding benefit. In my case his enthusiasm definitely rubbed off, but for my brother Phillip, the exercise was carried out with reluctant angst. On the 8th tee, a par 4 with a prominent dog leg, Philip’s drive slew off the side edge striking my father in the chest with a thud that sent a nearby group of water birds sky rocketing. He remained doubled over for at least 15 minutes, but was reflective at how narrowly he had avoided a more serious injury. The shock of it was intense, and I heatedly reprimanded Philip for what had happened, though my father insisted that the fault was his own for not standing behind the line of the ball. The mood was burning through my cheeks, and for those minutes I hated the game, and what had happened. The sound of insects seemed to swell to fever pitch and drown out, or make absurd the sound of my voice dumbly asking, “are you ok”?

The idea of moving to the Island permanently was often mooted that summer. We were full of plans for getting away, for making a clean break in recognition of my father’s failing health. They were dreams that circled, sometimes stopping to perch on a hill to take in the Westernport Panorama, but Canterbury was still our home and the only place I had known as home. After one such conversation, my father read aloud the opening chapters of the Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”. The evening unfolded in a manner resembling a classroom at attention. Then suddenly, my father choked reading through a poignant description of a poor child, his voice failed and he burst into tears quickly taking leave into the darkness outside. I could just make out his grey form through the window, the slope of his shoulder adding variation to the skyline in silhouette. I had never seen him cry before leaving me to secretly believe some things and disbelieve others. It was the first time I became aware of the mixture within him of stoic worldliness and this most fragile innocence. When he darkly emerged from the night an hour or so later, the house seemed to shrink in his presence, filled with words left unspoken, everyone tip toeing around the strangely muted living area, the hum of the gas light louder than ever. In the days that followed, my father embarked on a series of line drawings of each member of the family. It was a project undertaken with great seriousness and concentration. He had me pose for photos, my head against a halo of dartboard before commencing the portrait properly.

21 Phillip Isle xmas 1985

Every gesture every crease was placed with recognition of their character building importance. It was evident that these works held a special significance to him, a deeper insight into those in his family, and he was most perturbed when Michaela left early before he had a chance to draw her. I remember him saying that it was the first time he had really looked at us for years. The sadness I could detect in him, the weariness had been replaced by this complete absorption in the task at hand. This was the beginning of his last great artistic effort.

27 Phillip Isle xmas 1985

Euan 1986 pen on paper 60 x 40 cm
Euan 1986 pen on paper 60 x 40 cm

Rhythms of The Mind

 

My childish interpretation of the storm inside
My childish interpretation of the storm inside

Those few months were a strange time. My father seemed to age a year every week, and when we played chess, or watched cricket together, it was prefaced with this weight of an unspoken fear. What was going to happen? How would we function as a family without him? My parent’s bedroom that had always been a happy place now felt claustrophobic and necessarily gloomy under the burden of an impossible convalescence. The green room was named for its bristly carpet tiles that prevented the door from closing fully. I never tired from running my fingers over the various patterned glass panels of the perpetually ajar door, some smooth and bumpy like a polished tortoise shell and others cut finely into a thousand spiky teeth. Generous olive curtains could be opened to reveal a decorative chamber pot and other dusty ornaments, objects I had loved as a child reflecting the morning glow through stained glass. Above hung a heavy porcelain lamp shade were the light shot out of diamonds carved through its sides to throw ceiling shadows resembling a spiral carpet. All these things were now indelibly in shadow and belonged to a happier time, though the threads of their memory still move me and if recalled, they jerk and pull me back to my enduring youth.

The summer dragged as I waited, half reluctant for the return of routine and the start of school. My friends and peers rushed to me with news of the impending tragedy, ravenous for the drama of life as opposed to the fake heroics played out on the big screen. After the initial flush of interest however, I soon returned to my role as second fiddle and basketball hopeful – neither the most popular nor the castaway. If they had noticed me once, shifting uneasily and moving in and out of their conversation, they would not have recognised this inner turmoil. Voices trying to jolly me would fall like wet leaves and I’d escape to the Library or art room for uncrowded reflection.

Earnest inquiry from my peers about how my father was going gradually receded, the unspeakable finality of the truth not being a topic easily discussed. But also I usually remained cryptic and even glib with my response, a self defence making one harder to classify. Of course it was burning inside of me and continued to influence everything I did and everything I said, but it needed to be contained, this grief. It felt very much like I was coming in from the outside, through circles becoming denser, darker reaching for the centre of things through the boyish fog compounded of sugar, homework and sexual awareness. And by day as in night, the dream is peopled with those belonging to some other existence, their heads in their own neon cloud going about business and touching but never penetrating the fog’s silver gilded fragrance. Under the influence of this monumental mood, I often found myself walking around the school grounds, polishing appropriate retorts to unwanted attention. Stepping at times, uneasily, trying to match my stride with the rhythms of the mind.

Last game of chess
Last game of chess

At home things seemed to continue despite the absence of normalcy. The dark wood tall boy in my parent’s bedroom still held hidden treats tucked away in the under ware draw. The two oil stains on the wall where my parent’s had rested their heads continued their quiet introspection. The pets needed feeding, and dinner plates serving and the stories of the day were still passed around, although in a quieter fashion. Michaela shouldered much of the responsibility, driving to and from medical appointments, painstakingly easing over speed bumps to prevent jarring. Not many words were spoken, but I remember over hearing my father refer to her as his sterling girl. My father fought hard, but the illness had reduced his once portly stature to skin and bone. One morning early in March, he called for me from his sick bed to run an errand as I was already heading for the shops to buy milk and bread. He wanted me to buy him a fine art pen and presented me with a scattering of coins. The newsagency seemed to only have thick markers or common biro’s and instead of picking the closest alternative, I returned empty handed to his steely rebuke ‘I see you didn’t bother to buy my pen’. I felt very bad at the time, but that has since paled in comparison to my regret in reflection of having curtailed one of his last urges to create. A drawing from this time depicts a version of himself, isolated on a hill with his instrument laid to rest and in the distance his forlorn muse.

It was a momentous time in my life, reaching its climax with the family sitting around the deathbed in the Heidelburg Repatriation Hospital singing Beatles songs – the only ones we knew. At one point in the hospital, after exploratory surgery had determined that the cancer had spread to all parts of his body, my father said quite out of the blue and under heavy sedation ‘oh, there’s Doug Green’. It was later confirmed that his old artist buddy ‘was visited by Peter’ that very day. After his passing, I remember following coloured lines back through the hospital corridor in a kind of stupor; purchasing a raffle ticket for an Easter hamper, because life keeps on going apparently; and then the blinding light of day that lacerated my eyes and filled me with an unfamiliar mortification, to be in the presence of such gaiety. It was a beautiful Autumnal light that on any other occasion would have provoked an inner smile at least, but on this day it seemed quite wrong, an intrusion upon the sensation of being in some way outside of time, and beyond the reach of joy.

In the days that followed we wept together, reading through my father’s writings and sharing our memories. I felt a peculiar excitement when his golf clubs and slippers became mine, as if stepping into those shoes brought me closer to him and closer to the man I was to become. My Mother spent many long hours on the phone, breaking down as she delivered the news to friends and family, while I rubbed her back, letting her know that I was close. Everything seemed transformed somehow, a passing shower lingering like a great ocean, a song on the radio now an anthem to express the insoluble machinations of great emotion – I can’t live with or without you. Life stopped and started, as if waiting for a tear or the realisation of loss, and in the darkest hours, a room with a body imprinted in memory still remained, pulling me toward that which wants to be seen just one more time. My father was buried in the lawn cemetery on Phillip Island, a peaceful place a breast a hill abundant in she Oakes and lemon centred gums that seem to creak and whisper in acknowledgement of ones pensive presence.

Peter At Rest - 28

Peter At Rest - 26

Last Words

This was the first tape recording in what was to be a complete aural history by my father. The recording goes on for a further hour, with informal discussions around specific art works during the cataloguing process. Also edited is a brief interlude at the beginning, when I hold up proceedings by making a milkshake! My father is heard saying “what are you going to catch?, where are you going in such a hurry?”, which is prophetic in the sense that he only had ten days to live.

A Chance Meeting

Rosalind working on the catalogue April 1987
Rosalind working on the catalogue April 1987

My father’s art works were brought out to be catalogued by Rosalind Hollinrake. They lined the walls of the hallway 6 deep and a great excitement set in as an exhibition took shape. Rosalind, a published author most notably for a biography of artist Clarice A’Beckett, was an old acquaintance who lived up the way from our home in Wattle Valley Road in Canterbury. A chance meeting with my mother at the Camberwell market led to the suggestion of an oral history being recorded. The original idea had been to mount a show with the possibility of having it tour the regional galleries in Victoria.

Peter Graham April 1987
Peter Graham April 1987

Unfortunately, time was short, a lot shorter than any of us anticipated. Having been diagnosed with advanced cancer of the oesophagus in December 1986, my father’s condition rapidly deteriorated. His oesophagus opening had narrowed to the size of a pin and he would have perished of dehydration within weeks if it had not been for medical intervention. He had been having difficulty swallowing for over a year, a condition wrongly diagnosed as associated with a hiatus hernia he had suffered in the late 1960’s. Now he began laser treatment, at that time a relatively new and experimental procedure, designed to burn away the tumour to relieve symptoms associated with the blockage. There was a proliferation of ‘how to conquer cancer’ readings in the house, in particular a book by Ian Gawler, a man who had managed to defeat his illness having been given the prognosis of weeks to live. This in turn led to a benign belief in the power of self-healing. One evening I watched him stand at the edge of the veranda contemplating the view, as if at the edge of one life looking back upon something he had created and yet had never afforded himself the time to appreciate. The ingraining of the work ethic had been so complete that even in his last days he described himself as semi retired and an artist at the beginning of his most exciting period.

LAst photos of my father
LAst photos of my father

My father had always had a spiritual quality despite his atheist leanings. He would muse about parallel lives where he had returned to a travelling life rather than stopping to nest. My mother recalled how he had announced, ‘No ghosts in here’, when first stepping foot in our Canterbury home. Over the dinner table, he would revel in stories of spectres in the sunken gardens of the Abbey, an Artist’s colony in New Barnett, where he had lived in 1947 in a war torn north London. His old scrapbook would be brought out to illustrate the anecdotes, filled with newspaper cuttings and snap shots of a young man brimming with promise in front of unfamiliar canvases.

My Father painting "The Convicts" 1946 London Bomb damage c.1947 "The Abbey Arts Centre" 1947
My Father painting “The Convicts” 1946
London Bomb damage c.1947
“The Abbey Arts Centre” 1947

 With moist-eyed remembrance, he brought back to life the characters and places he had been as a young man over a glass of bubbly, thimble size for the youngest. Then in his final months, he embraced meditation and described in detail, moments of elevated insight and the experience of cradling his very soul. Despite this journey toward healing, on the bedroom wall was a late woodblock print, a dead bird windswept by a north blow reminding me the storm might not have passed. He died on April 15th 1987 having been originally given a prognosis of up to a year to live. The catalogue had to be finished without him, and the exhibition became a memorial, hung to coincide with what would have been his 62nd birthday.

"Bird, Dead Tree and North Wind" 1985 3 colour woodcut print. 50 x 50 cm
“Bird, Dead Tree and North Wind” 1985 –  3 colour woodcut print. 50 x 50 cm

The Great Power of Art Works

1987 - 17

In the months following his death, our house was filled with my father’s paintings, many having been brought out from their usual hiding place in the narrow roof cavity where they had been stored for many years. As a boy I would often tiptoe through the crowded space over broken glass, groping in the dark for a discarded toy. It was a scary place then, with the single light bulb partially obscured by a canvas; seaweed insulation spilling out from holes in the silver paper and in summer, the smouldering temperatures befitting a roof cavity. My older sister Michaela and I sometimes smuggled a picnic hamper in when much younger, and devoured our secret feast by torch light. I didn’t really know what was in there, but when I asked one year if he would put some paintings on my walls my father produced a small collection rescued from their shadowy incarceration. He did it in a rather casual manner without consultation, but I did detect a slight satisfaction that at least I was showing some interest. There was a striking Horse and Rider watercolour ‘Ghost Story’ telling the tale of a man pursued by his own fear; an orange square from ‘The Children’s Corner Suite’ which fitted nicely on the clothes cupboard doorknob and vibrated with the colour that had been a childhood favourite; and two musicians from his English period. Later that year I asked him to paint a red fish on my wall. It was to be the vanguard of an entire underwater population. I looked at these works every night before sleeping and took particular delight in discovering faces in the abstracted fiddlers. In one painting the rather distorted face on downward incline was mirrored by a Turkish prince clad in a purple turban, the chin of the first becoming the cheek of my exotic noble. It was a process akin to finding strange characters in the peeling paint of my ceiling: a giraffe, a cat, a whole regiment of plastic chargers.

"Musician" 1950 oil on canvas 75 x 50 cm "Ghost Story" 1951 Water Colour 60 x 50 cm "Children's Corner Suite" (part) 60 x 60 cm oilo on canvas
“Musician” 1950 oil on canvas 75 x 50 cm
“Ghost Story” 1951 Water Colour 60 x 50 cm
“Children’s Corner Suite” (part) 60 x 60 cm oilo on canvas

This is what I’ve come to believe is the great power of art works. In a world so dominated by moving picture’s requiring half a dozen camera angles on swift rotation to hold our attention, the static image is placed in a unique category. It promotes the thinking eye, and quietly educates our perception. While the image remains the same, the way we see it changes over time, and in this way, a great work of art can grow within us, adding layers of meaning, and a deeper personal significance as experience shapes our understanding of the world. It is an essentially inner life in which paintings exist. I could see my father most clearly when studying a private moment on canvas: a vision on a rainy day. Happy to be home from school, I had never felt so close to another’s feelings than alone with these pictures. To quote my father: “Around the walls the pictures hang in still splendour, constantly open windows to other worlds and between them the curtain of time.”

Peter Graham painting in the study at Canterbury 9/7/1983
My father painting in the study at Canterbury 9/7/1983

Watching an artwork take shape is another experience again. It drags you into the interior workings of the artists mind as the furrowed brow is followed by the deliberate act. When my father was painting, he had a far away expression on his face as if seeing past the immediate surroundings to the great potential beyond. It was not recreation, and it was not relaxing, it was something far more intense, something private, behind the eyes. Echoed in body language, a demonstrative hand cocked at the chin, legs folded in defiance of the linen press. His concentration would permeate the room and hover around the body like a mist of snatches of thought. I received only a few formal lessons, how to depict trees hugging a hillside at distance, and the rules of perspective in relation to a hasty sketch of the rotunda on school camp to Walhalla. The odd face or space ship would appear in earlier sketch books for me to copy from, caught between my own texter soldiers strewn across the page in evidence of a great campaign in the child’s mind. In my case his lessons were taught by osmosis and casual observation. It was the atmosphere of painting and the smell of turpentine, gum Arabic and Linseed oil that imbued me with a sense of reverence and curiosity.

Canterbury

09 Memorial Exhibition E

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 Study
The Study

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.

DSC_0280

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.