Bridges of trust
Trust in timing has been on my mind. And how, in periods of suspended animation there is magic to be found if we are brave enough to step beyond our familiar frameworks and boldly go where man is less about self.
My default is to trust without question and this spin on life has rewarded me and given chance and spontaneity free will to thrive. I know deeply that my paintings come bounding into my imagination based on this premise.
At the start of Covid, without savings and prior to the Government’s JobKeeper initiative, I, like many others with dependents to support, had a trust wobble. Schools cancelled or deferred murals as children wouldn’t be present to benefit from the process. I sat squarely in a puddle of discomfort and that’s where the magic happened.
Within a day I received a phone call from Colin, a man in his later years with an endearing child-like disposition; also meek, mild and isolated. He expressed his urgency for the transformation of his only view; a cheerless nine-foot-high grey metal fence supported on his courtyard side by ugly metal staves.
With ISO in force we had a conversation about social-distancing and I assured him that I was doing everything in my power to stay safe. There was no question that Colin needed cheering up and that a mural on his fence was going to make the next few lonely months bearable for him.
Colin was shy to begin with. His home had security cameras and it was clear that fear was a prominent guiding force in his life. It was vital (especially after a fifty minute drive with tea in my belly) that I needed to negotiate access into his home to use the bathroom. This was the first of many steps in establishing a bridge of trust. Nothing quite like sharing your vulnerability to deconstruct barriers.
I knew also, that for the mural to work for Colin it required him to speak. It had to ignite joy and delight. As the grey colourbond turned into blue sky and the first colours of a back-drop altered perspective, Colin saw a quality and potential that settled him and he opened like a flower.
He told me stories of his life as the youngest of 12 children to a kind mother and fierce father. His face lit up as he described, in vivid detail, farms that his parents managed in Melanganee at the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and in Goonengerry. His forebears were timber cutters and his life was full of the magic of nature and bucolic routine. His childhood was a lonely time as siblings escaped as soon as they could from haunting echoes of a violent, alcoholic parent.
An everlasting memory for me was Colin’s animated recount of his pet wallabies Snoopy and Wally. More than anything, this moment bonded us. Colin took me inside to show me photos faded but cared for in an album. These creatures were his company, his comfort, his source of humour and delight. We were both enjoying the crescendo of stories when his facial expression dissipated in response to my question ‘what happened to them’. His father took the wallabies away, put them in a small cage. Wally escaped and Snoopy perished. Colin ended that conversation with “I told Dad that I could never ever forgive him for that”.
And so it was that I felt a crescendo of my own. A desire for this mural to restore Colin’s faith in humankind and for Wally and Snoopy to be returned to him in a scene alive with familiar landmarks that brought him solace as a child. The scene needed a path, a symbol of life and timelessness as these wallabies were going to be painted in … one at the start of the track and the other alive to the end.
Each day we became closer. To the point that Colin was talking so much I needed to gently declare that the mural would take too long if we kept stopping the process. So, we agreed that tea once a day and a chat to catch up and revive was the go. We laughed and he would tell me that the evening light brought the mural to life. Along the path I created intimate spaces framed by trees, softening rigid angles revealing portals into secret places. Alongside a babbling creek I painted a forester’s hut with Colin’s childhood Jack Russell dog Pebbles on the verandah. In went Wollumbin, our majestic extinct volcano remnant, a constant in the fabric of his life. Common in his own garden, a rainbow lorikeet and crimson rosella appeared in giant form swooping through the forest.
Saying goodbye to Colin wasn’t easy but I left knowing that the mural had a voice louder than that of his father.
And now the collection of animals affected by fire have been calling me to complete them. A message from Michele Hoffman, Professor of Marine Science at Columbia, Roosevelt and School of the Art Institute in the USA has invited me to speak on this collection to the Art Institute. Their time has come.
For me, this collection is an emergence of something new. Something exciting and important. It is a brave step away from painting murals so I can focus energy on the restorative potential of individual paintings and the job they are destined to do.
The first seed planted on this trajectory I completely credit with Kathy Wilson’s trust and timing in visiting me on her way home last Christmas, just weeks after the death of her partner Mick. Our re-connection after almost 30 years led to a painting celebrating their life and afterlife of Mick. ‘Resurrection’ is a painting that powerfully placed me back on track as an oil painter with a mission.
It is with the greatest of joy that I want to share with you that Kathy and I will be walking this new road together. Kathy has the skills and experience borne from her corporate life and her devastating loss to help propel these paintings into meaningful orbits of their own. She’s experienced the healing, consultative and inclusive process first-hand.
The new paintings will each have a purpose. Whether that is as a keepsake to honour loved ones lost or to instil a state of feeling safe and stable in a hospital room or to assist the marginalised to feel care and connection. The copy right of each public piece will be used to fundraise or provide public hospitals and places of recovery and schools with affordable, reassuring art. The process will be inclusive and consultative. Originals will have their own unique value.
Kathy’s spontaneous act of trust re-connected us.
The span of our bridge will reach far and wide.