In the 1980s and 90s I travelled through Europe, living in my Kombi van and paying my way by taking commissions from antique dealers and private collectors to reproduce modern and classical artwork.
One of my most interesting assignments was for an antique dealer who wanted reproductions of a series of fifteenth century mosaic tables. I set up a studio in Madrid and became a regular at the Prado Museum where the tables were housed. Every day I took notes and made my sketches, then trudged home at night to pick up my brushes and oil paints. Sadly there are no surviving pics as my premises were ransacked and all photographic evidence absconded with!
Other commissioned works included shop window displays, classical reproductions for restaurants in Italy (I’ve never eaten so well in my life!) and copies of modern masters such as Dali and Kandinsky for private art collections.
Many of my reproductions were in oil paint, but often I worked in chalk pastel on a specially prepared canvas. Pastels are very intense and have wonderful vibrant colour. I made my own too, from a traditional old secret recipe using ground pigments and beeswax.
The image above shows the beginning of my reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Tondo Doni”, a circular Madonna and child painting that is as beloved now as it was back in Michelangelo’s day. My version was rendered in chalk pastels on a canvas that was specially prepared with fine-ground pumice stone so the pastels grab the surface. Michelangelo’s version was painted in 1507 and is held in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. My version was rendered in 1987, and sold to a private collector.
Back in Australia I continued my commercial ventures – designing CD covers, more shop windows, the interior of an ice-cream parlour (again I was very well fed!), as well as business logos, commissioned paintings, and illustration work. I also began to establish myself as a visual artist, getting a few solo and group exhibitions under my belt and winning several prizes and grants. However, more and more I began to feel that something was missing…
In the mid-90s I finally took the plunge and started a project that would completely transform my life. I’d always been a voracious reader, and had for many years entertained a private longing to write, but unlike painting it was not something that came easily to me. . .