The creek

Nest © Samantha Groenestyn

I was fortunate enough to attend an artist floor talk in Noosa the other week, given by one David Paulson at his retrospective exhibition. The guys at the atelier spoke of him—their former teacher—with starry eyes, and I had to tag along to see their idol in the flesh. His fleshy self is every bit as sparkling, witty and intimidating as his self-portrait, and the man had a lot of irreverent and insightful things to say.

David talked about hiring a model every day for an hour. Thirty dollars a day, five days a week, amounts to a significant sum for a financially precarious artist, but David filled sketchbook after sketchbook this way, refining his understanding of the human form. ‘Some people put a deposit on a house,’ he explained, ‘I invested in my skill.’

Now, I have no grand aspirations to own any sort of property or dwelling, and not only because my financial situation is also on the precarious end of the continuum, but mostly because such things don’t interest me. You are going to work all of your life, and you are possibly going to achieve something. I’ve known people who have proudly announced to me that since the age of twenty-six they’ve been locked into a thirty-year mortgage which they, a sole parent, must spend the majority of their part-time income on, but that it’s the best thing ever and in their fifties they’re finally going to own their somewhat average house in some backwater of Australia. While that’s no mean feat, it’s not exactly a very clever sacrifice in my estimation. No, what I’m interested in is my own skills and abilities, and working at them to achieve the most productive life possible. I’ll always find somewhere to live, and while I cherish the idea of ‘home,’ I won’t make it the driving motivation of my life.

David’s work over his lifetime is varied, but always strong and bold. His angrier stuff from his youth is confronting and bitter, and his student work—realistic portraits and such—is tight and confident. David took awkward questions from the floor and responded with an intensity and honesty that was as unsettling as much of his work. This is a man who says it like it is, and doesn’t accept people applying concepts like ‘metaphysical’ to his painting method. ‘I like the creek, so I paint the creek. There’s so much to discover in the creek. I wish I’d found the creek when I was thirty.’

Said creek is at the back of David’s property in Maleny (it’s also reassuring to know that one can preference skills over house deposits and still wind up with property, creek and all), and his explorations of it are crisp, brash and full of depth. Light shimmers knowledgeably over rocks, sticks and leaves, but those debris hold their own. These are no impressionist paintings playing with ethereal light: these paintings drag you to the bottom of the creek with their heaviness. And you want to be there: this creek is a veritable Barrier Reef of thoroughly delightful underwater plumage.

David spoke of limiting his palette in more recent times to eight colours. Each painting draws on this palette in different ratios: while the creek bed paintings burst with vivid reds, yellows and blues, saving the darks for striking tonal effects, a series of smaller paintings of girls on the creek bank are predominantly dark, saving tiny flecks of pure colour for eerie glances of light off skin and water. J has often spoken of style being a matter of limiting yourself in a particular way—of making a choice about what to leave out—and in David’s case, his palette has forced him to explore other things about the works, though I suspect it has also given him a virtuoso grasp on the limits that his colours can be pushed to.

We spent some time admiring David’s life drawings, and he took great delight in telling us that a drawing must capture the person. Being correct and accurate is not the same as understanding a person through their physical presence and describing that in lines on paper. I’m reminded of Bammes* (p. 10), who says of this ‘sensitivity’ toward the model: ‘we are building up the body’s physiognomy—expressing character through a physical description.’

Meeting David Paulson was a real honour, and hearing his straight-up thoughts on art and life has given me plenty of hope for the unconventional career that is being an artist.

* Bammes, Gottfried. 2010. Complete guide to life drawing [Menschen zeichnen Grundlagen zum Aktzeichnen]. Trans. Cicero Translations. Search: Kent.
Nest is a picture of my house, nestled in her leafy jungle of a garden. It’s pretty much the best house ever. We’ve made it a cosy little haven, productive workspace, and buzzing party hive. We call her The Duchess because she’s so regally dilapidated with her sprawling verandas and high ornate ceilings, and this blog is named after her, a tribute to the importance of place in my life.

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