Paul Best Sun, 15 Jul 2012 03:39:56 +0000 en hourly 1 Elevated – Images from an Exhibition at the Robyn Bauer Gallery Sun, 15 Jul 2012 03:35:51 +0000 admin The thing I love about rugby league (or any spectator sport for that matter) is that a different narrative unfolds each time you watch the game.

All you have to do is pick a side and the whole thing comes alive. Guys in white hats take on guys in black hats. Acts of great courage are undermined by moments of cheap villainy. There are a half-dozen subplots unfolding on the field at any given time.

Detail of Elevated

High drama. Broad comedy. A passion play.

Broncos Afternoon Football

Australia doesn’t have a great tradition of sporting art. Or if it does it’s not widely recognised or celebrated. Sidney Nolan and Russel Drysdale are exceptions who prove the rule. In any case it seems to me that the two worlds (the sporting world and the art world) shun one another when they have more in common than they’d like to admit.

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Football Paintings – AFL Tue, 18 Oct 2011 10:57:23 +0000 admin

Ball Up Detail - Concentration

There’s no great tradition of sports painting in Australian Art if you discount Equestrian painting, which for mine has all the merit of a mounted trophy head in someone’s den.

Ball Up Detail - the Mad Fan

I can think of only one or two exceptions to the rule. Specifically, Sidney Nolan – and his painting, The Footballer – and Russel Drysdale’s The Cricketers.

Ball Up Detail - The Mad Fan (ii)

In any case, to rectify matters I’ve been working on my own AFL painting (as well as some earlier attempts at capturing the crowd at Rugby League games which you can see over at my Series 4 Gallery).

Ball Up - Complete Image

I figure Nolan and Drysdale have nothing to fear – at least not for the time being.

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Brisbane Artists – Randall Kamp & The Secret Life Wed, 06 Jul 2011 08:33:39 +0000 admin An old friend of mine, Randall Kamp, got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago after a hiatus of several years. In the course of getting reacquainted, he told me he’d produced a series of drawings based on a short story of mine called The Secret Life for Drawing Day 2011.

I wrote the story twenty years ago (give or take) and toyed with the idea of self-publishing it as an illustrated book. I had in mind Huckleberry Finn or the illustrated Charles Scribner’s Sons edition of The Old Man and The Sea. Whatever you think of my conceit, you have to agree Randall’s drawings (presented below with excerpts from The Secret Life) are superb.

Mr L in Townsville

    In Townsville, drunk and sweating on the floor, lies Mr L from Brisbane. His skin, white, slaps the bare boards while the landlady’s clock chimes 9 pm. And she, the landlady, is in the far kitchen, where – secretly smelling of beer and lemonade – she weeps and kisses the cat…
    …Later, but for the sound of the landlady’s clock, the house is in silence. Mr L rolls drunkenly on one side. To the dark reflection in a louver, he says, “Satan I see you.”

Is Mr L a young man, Mr M?

    In the yard, midmorning, Mr L strains in a crooked cane chair. He smokes a cigarette, fiddled from a packet in his lap. The cat, Princess, comes from green shadows by the fence. it’s fur black and white, the cat is a ghost train through the daylight. It comes smoothly to a halt, and sitting, assesses Mr L.
    Mr M, in the backroom with Mrs U, watches the pair while describing vigorous circles on the fat lady’s thigh with his hand. There is silence in the room, save for the steady ticking round of flesh. Then Mrs U asks breathlessly, “Is Mr L a young man, Mr M?”

In Mrs U's room, the light is on...

    In Mrs U’s room, the light is on, and, with the fan going, the curtain stirs in the languid air. Mrs U, her face fevered, has spittle from each corner of her mouth. Her breast shivers. There is a rattle near her heart, and every indication that she will die. She wakes, however, and shows it by the closing and smacking of her lips. Air whistles in her nostrils and croaks from her mouth. Her eyes open. Blindly, then they watch the ceiling fan, and the shadows it throws as it goes drunkenly around.

Cicadas sing inside the head of Mr L.

    On the front steps, the last light lost, cicadas sing inside the head of Mr L. He drinks from a six pack to fill the dark incision of madness that they make. “Oh,” he says, then sips. Mr L is fearful. He is waiting on devils and dead friends.

A black shape slips from the table into a frame of moonlight.

    …Going through the screen door to the kitchen, Mr L finds the landlady sitting in the dark. “Mr L,” she says. “Please, it’s such a hot night. There is beer in the fridge, join me. Princes and I were talking.” A black shape slips from the table into a frame of moonlight, startling Mr L.

The shadows were locked outside.

    There is a knock at the door. Mr L stiffens, holding in his breath. He counts to five, then relaxes. Finding the light, he flicks it on. The shadows are locked outside. Mr L, in old slippers, pads to the door and opens it…

    …He steps further into the hallway. “Mrs U,” he says. “Someone knocked. I was asleep.” Still smiling she turns her face to his room. “Yes,” she says, finally. “It was me.”

    Her hand, the one that she had trailed on the wall, now rises from the folds of her dressing gown and softly caresses the side of his face. The hand is cool and rough. When Mr L does not pull away, it lingers. “Yes,” says Mrs U, again. “It was me.” She follows Mr L into his room, closing the door behind her.

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Jack Pooch Private Eye Dog Detective – 1 Sept 1996 to 1 May 2011 Mon, 02 May 2011 07:17:48 +0000 admin I painted this picture of our dog Jack for my stepson on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Jack was 14 and a half at the time, which made him a hundred and two in dog years – quite an innings, as they say.

I painted Jack as a rainbow because he was slowly leaving the world. Now that he’s gone, the image retains its potency for me.

Jack taught me that the world is a beautiful and transient place. Looking at his bowl and his brush and the place where his bed used to be, I know that this a profound and indisputable fact.

I’m going to miss the absolute bejesus out of him.

2 May 2011

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Draft Work – April 2011 Wed, 27 Apr 2011 08:39:12 +0000 admin Here’s to sunshine, football, family and Red Hill – or any place you care to name that’s got a big sky and room for your heart grow big in).

Suncorp Stadium Game Day

Suncorp Stadium Game Day

Suncorp Stadium Game Day 1st Detail

Suncorp Stadium Game Day 2nd Detail

Football Crowd

Football Crowd 1st Detail

Football Crowd 2nd Detail

Football Crowd 3rd Detail

Try – Draft in Progress

Try – Draft in Progress 1st Detail

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Australian Cattle Dog Cross: Jack Pooch Private Eye Dog Detective (1996 – ) Sun, 27 Feb 2011 09:38:55 +0000 admin Our dog is a German Shepherd / Rotweiller / Blue Healer cross. People ask us, we tell them, “he’s the world’s biggest cattle dog.” Look at him and tell me we’re lying.

When he was a puppy he had paws the size of paving stones. People looked at those paws and told my wife he was going to be a “Big dog”. They emphasised the word “Big” to show how much they meant it. “Biiigggg”, they said, “biiigggg!”

Needless to say that’s exactly what he became.

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Water Colour Interlude Sat, 05 Feb 2011 08:50:09 +0000 admin Dabbling is not the right word for it.

Empty Cup 1 - PB 10

Over the last eight months we’ve moved twice.

While we haven’t been living out of boxes (we’ve been living very comfortably, thanks to my wife’s commendable organisational skills), I haven’t felt settled enough to set up an easel and start a canvas.

Avocado - PB 10

Somehow living between places feels unsuited to working at an easel.

The commitment and resolve in setting one up creates a feeling of permanence that I don’t want to have to break again just to re-establish it again somewhere else.

Flower 1 - PB 10

So I wasn’t dabbling when I picked up the water colours.

Tomato - PB 10

I was sitting waiting by a creek somewhere.

Stick - PB 10

I was feeling the sun on my shoulders.

Lemon - PB 10

I was squinting up and watching the sun as it passed over the treetops.

Horse - PB 11

I had my pant legs rolled up.

Native - PB 11

I had my feet resting in the water.

Plastic Flowers - PB 11

Just resting in the water.

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Brisbane Artists – Forgotten, Overlooked, Misplaced Fri, 28 Jan 2011 08:02:24 +0000 admin I was talking with Helen Parlevliet the other day about her mother, Helga Parl, a prodigious, albeit largely unknown, Brisbane painter, who studied under the likes of Frank Rowlands and Pam Dolinska and exhibited in the late 1960s and 70s. Listening to Helen describe her childhood and it’s impact on her own work (the smell of oil paint, she said, was an indelible memory ‘like freshly mown grass or the Sunday roast’), I started to think about the countless painters, writers, sculptors and musicians who, despite years of passionate and tireless endeavour, had, like Helga Parl, failed to reach a lasting audience.

Helen's Mother, Helga Parl - Zilmere Exhibition

Van Gogh’s Backstory

This was hardly a new thought, of course. Chance has played a frequent and romantic part in artist bios for a long time. Almost unavoidably, it seems, they are plucked from obscurity, raised up from poverty, or discovered by the Devil at the crossroads. It feels like sacrilege to suggest it, but how much of people’s boundless fascination with Van Gogh owes itself to his backstory? ‘Imagine,’ we ask ourselves in awed, hushed tones, ‘what would have happened if long-suffering Theo hadn’t been there to buy up those canvases?’

Helga Parl

Helga Parl was born in Germany where she trained as an engineer before migrating with her Dutch husband to Australia in 1959. The couple settled in Brisbane; years later Helga described the experience in a piece published at Immigration Bridge:

    “Jan’s friend Roulof had come back and had told us favourable stories about his adopted city of Brisbane. What Roulof had omitted to tell us, was that women there, though treated like ladies, were in fact considered second class citizens. They were meant to populate the country, not compete with men in the workforce. They would not get paid more than eighty per cent of the wages men got for equal work. He also didn’t tell us that we could end up in a camp of sparsely furnished, dirty Nissan huts with food that was almost unrecognisable as such. He did not know that the drawing office I would work in was definitely Dickensian, decades behind European standards.”

Brisbane Modernity

In the late 1960s, separated from her husband and working as a draftswoman for Evans Deakin, Helga studied art first at the Queensland Institute of Technology and then later at the Royal Art Society. Among Helga’s teachers were talented Brisbane artists Don Hamilton and Max Hurley (examples of their work are shamefully absent from the web, however, I’ve managed to dig up the following images for your edification).

Don Hamilton Water Colour

Max Hurley's Lola Montez - 1965

Formidable Output

Helen Parlevliet recalled her mother’s formidable output:

    “For each of her solo exhibitions, my mother would produce upwards of a hundred paintings. She’d go to bed at 8 o’clock each night, then get up a couple of hours later to work through until four or five in the morning. I remember eating breakfast in the mornings with a direct line of sight to her easel. More often than not there’d be a finished painting on the easel when I got up. I don’t know how she did it. It was like they flowed out of her.”

Helga Prepares for an Exhibition - Late 1970s

I asked Helen if she had any images of her mother’s work. Not many, she admitted. Those she did have were generally of her mother’s mistakes. The better paintings, she explained, had long since been sold and were hanging in suburban homes now.

    “They’re up on walls with old 70s wallpaper,” Helen said.


A few weeks later Helen forwarded me eight or nine photographs, taken at a couple of her mother’s exhibitions during the period in which Helga was at her most prolific. One of the exhibitions was held at the Macdonell and East gallery on George Street; the other at a gallery in Zilmere. The images produced below were taken from those photographs.

Helga Parl's Still Life - 1st Exhibition

Helga Parl's Seaside Still Life - 1977

Helga Parl's Untitled - 1st Exhibition

Helga Parl's Fire - 1st Exhibition

Abstract Tapestry

This or a That

Around the time that Helen sent me the exhibition photos, she also emailed me a January 1979 article published in the Evans Deakin Newspaper. The article profiled Helga in the lead up to her 1979 exhibition at the Queensland Room Art Gallery. Asked by the journalist to describe her work, Helga replied:

    “Most painters can be picked by their style or colours, but I can’t be pinpointed… It’s very hard to put me in a cage as a this or a that.”

Neglected, Forgotten or Under Appreciated

This blog topic then is dedicated to Helga Parl and to Brisbane artists of the 50s, 60s and 70s like her. Over the coming months I intend returning to this theme, celebrating Brisbane artists whose work has been neglected or forgotten or never fully appreciated.

If you know of a Brisbane artist who fits these criteria, one who painted in the second half of last century and whose work predates the advent of the Internet, let me know because I’d love to hear from you.

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Family – Art from the Heart Thu, 28 Oct 2010 09:09:56 +0000 admin Asked earlier this year to contribute a painting for auction to the CEO’s Challenge (a charity that works with Chief Executives to raise awareness about domestic violence and its impacts), I leapt at the chance to contribute a work that would hang alongside paintings by established artists such as Yvonne Mills Stanley and David Hinchcliffe, as well as works by Deborah Conway and Kev Carmody, two great Australian entertainers not usually known for their work with a paintbrush.


The painting itself was done back in May while we were preparing to sell our house. As a result it was painted piecemeal over the course of a month – I spent roughly an hour a night, three times a week on it, laying down colour when I wasn’t packing books into boxes or running detritus out to the dump.


The charity’s guidelines called for “a piece of art which expresses how much you value and appreciate the loved ones in your life.” The guidelines also asked contributors to provide a few brief words about what their families mean to them.

    My family is a prayer.
    It is joy & exultation, sorrow & lament. In all its manifestations,
    though, it is singularly beautiful. Close your eyes at night & you
    can hear its song passing out across the universe.

After the Fire

For information regarding the auction itself have a look at this link.

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Novels About Art – “The Vivisector” by Patrick White Sun, 20 Jun 2010 09:03:16 +0000 admin News that Patrick White’s 1974 novel the Vivisector had been shortlisted for the one off Lost Man Booker Prize (subsequently pipped at the post by JT Farrell’s ‘Troubles’, which has nothing to do with art, but is nevertheless a cracking good read) seemed sufficient reason for me to dust off my old paperback copy for another shot at the thing. I say another because my first attempt at the book, undertaken nearly ten years ago, stalled a few pages in when I found White’s rendering of Australian working class dialogue so teeth-grindingly awful that proceeding beyond page 13 was a physical impossibility.

Tom Adam's cover for "The Vivisector"

Starting the book again I wondered if anything had changed. Certainly I was not the same person I was a decade ago. My response to White’s book back then was a visceral one – as if I had been personally traduced by it. Whatever the case, the novel’s opening paragraphs seemed on second reading to be as vivid and electric as anything I’d read in the preceding twelve months:

    “The fowls were fluffing in the dust and sun: that crook-neck white pullet Mumma said she would hit on the head if only she had the courage to; but she hadn’t. (It was Mumma who killed the fowls when any of them got so old you could only eat them.) So the white crook-neck thing, white too about the wattles, stood around grabbing what and whenever it could, but sort of sideways.”

Absolutely beautiful. Maybe my assessment of the book was wrong. Could it be that exposure to the rhythms of American vernacular (from Mark Twain to Richard Price) had so conditioned me that any attempt at strine sounded clumsy and contrived in comparison? It’s possible. God knows, I’ve thrown aside books by Tim Winton (Cloudstreet) and Venero Armanno (The Lonely Hunter) because their working class characters sounded like cretins to me – laconic irony disappeared, and in its place was dribbling mawkishness. Maybe I owe each of them an apology.

But then I struck this:

    “‘Well – Pa had no edgercation. Poor Pa was put to lumping bags of potatoes and onions for Cartwrights down in Sussex Street, to earn a crust for ‘is own dad. Granpa liked to talk. He was so pleasant. He had a beautiful handwritin’. ‘E could copy real lovely. And did earn a shillun here and there. But blew ‘is cash as quick as ‘e got it. And the remittance too.’”

I put the book aside and stared off into the middle distance. Edgercation? – please. I felt like a snarky kid in grade three was sneering “Hay is what Horses eat” into my ear. And what was I to make of Pa ‘lumping bags of potatoes and onions’ in the one breath, then earning a ‘shillun’ for his ‘beautiful handwritin’ in the next?

I wanted to like this book, I really did. As an artist I wanted to see Hurtle’s world illuminated. I wanted to see his processes revealed. I wanted to be convinced of his vision and to marvel at its translation onto the canvas. No such luck. White failed in all these things and around the 400 page mark I tossed the book aside for the final time.

There are no adults in this book, I thought, only grotesque children.

Hurtle assaults his canvases like a three year old child tossing a temper tantrum. He slings feces at one(unless I wildly missed the metaphor) in an attempt to tame his fevered imagination. The psychology is pedestrian and the imagery uninspired. God is the Vivisector. The Artist is the Vivisector. God is the Artist. The Artist is God. An eye painted on a shed wall. Animals opened up for surgical examination. A man masturbating on a cliff while the full moon defecates on him.

This from page 336:

    “…the lovers in their vegetable bliss unconscious of a vindictive moon; then, on the earthly plane, the gunner-grocer aiming at them out of frustration and envy from the street bench. There were so many gaps in his explanation he could feel himself sweating.
    “‘yes, I see,’ Hero was saying earnestly; she was probably quite humourless, ‘the moon is in one of its destructive phases – like anybody. That, I understand. The innocent lovers are under attack.’
    “‘But they’re not innocent. Nobody is – not even a baby.’ To take her revenge, and make everything as clear as crystal, Olivia let fall her words in an accent not unlike Hero’s own. ‘And they’re under no ordinary attack. Can’t you see? The moon is shitting on them!’”

The fact that I soldiered on for another fifty pages says more about my endurance than it does my good sense. In the end I was unconvinced. Did I miss something? Probably. Was it worth finding? I doubt it.

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