Watch a video Autobiography by Edwin Wilson, parts 1 to 4
One of my earliest pre-school drawings on the farm was of a squadron of double-wingers from my father’s airport (see image ‘Double-wingers Over Farm’). I’d bought my first box of water colours while in primary school (from selling cooked mud crabs at the local pub), and had visions of being a painter when I grew up (see ‘Optimistic Boat’, as painted into the autograph book of Helen L’Orange (nee Alidenes) in 1954).
I’d applied to study art at Mullumbimby High School (see my painting of ‘Queen Boadicea’ in my history book of 1955), to discover that art was only available for girls and ‘dummies’ in those days.
At Armidale Teachers’ College I obtained a Distinction in mixed media as an Art Elective subject. Here I received the one and only lesson on oil painting (see fragment of my first oil painting, entitled ‘Cotoneasters’). In Sydney I’d purchased my own starter set of oil paints, and was encouraged by Geoff Tyndall, art teacher at The Forest High, who took me to a couple of life drawing classes.
I painted consistently from the age of nineteen until my mid-twenties (see ‘Self-portrait’ 1961, and ‘Girl with Flowers’, 1964). At an exhibition in Phillip Baxter College (1967), I sold ‘In Search of Truth’ (to Joe Cassidy), ‘Convent Garden’ (to someone from the Psychology Department at the University), and my collage ‘The Flower that has Bloomed Forever Dies’ to Professor George, our College Warden (then bought my collage back). As part of my on-going science studies (University of New South Wales) I obtained a High Distinction in the Humanities subject, ‘History of Fine Arts’, with dreams of studying at the then ‘East Sydney Tech’ when I finished my degree.
Then I fell in love, ‘the whole catastrophe,’ as Zorba said, which sunk my plans. For life and study, work (and later family) intervened, closing out any aspirations I may have had to be a painter. In the interim I sublimated with word-pictures (or poems, without the need of having to set up a canvas and easel, and then clean up all the mess at the end).
In 2003, on my retirement from paid employment, I enrolled in painting classes at the Lavender Bay Gallery. In 2008, after an ‘apprenticeship’ of some six years I was elected as an Exhibiting Member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (having clocked up my 10,000 hours working on the craft, while still retaining a naïve style). My teachers were Judy Pennefather and Leyla Spencer. On-going tuition had been provided by my friend Robin Norling (whom I’d met professionally when he was working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and his painter-partner, Jocelyn Maughan.
In 2009 I set up an operating studio. In 2010 I won the Royal Art Society ‘Medal of Distinction’ for their 130th Spring Exhibition (for my painting ‘Church at Berrima’). In 2011 I exhibited with Bruce Herps at the Artarmon Galleries (Sydney). In 2014 I had a Mullumbimby-themed exhibition (entitled ‘The Mullumbimby Kid’, with an exhibition catalogue entitled Mullumbimby Dreaming) at the beautiful Tweed Regional Gallery (in Murwillumbah), not long after the opening of the Magaret Olley ‘Installation’.
In 2015 I was elected as an Associate of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.
In 2016 the RAS hosted my Retrospective exhibition at their Lavender Bay Gallery, North Sydney, that doubled as the official launch of my Stardust Painter-Poet, opened by John McDonald (Art Critic Sydney Morning Herald) with a joint SMH review (with Bill Yaxley).
In 2018 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Art Society, and an AOM in 2020, for Services to the Visual Arts and the Community (from having set up the Division of Community Relations at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney in 1980, starting from ‘scratch’).
Below is a gallery of some of my early paintings. A complete set of better quality images of significant paintings (from Stardust Painter-Poet II) may be downloaded or free (see ‘Downloads’) on this Website.
Towards the end of this publication are two essay on artistic genesis: ‘Poetry and Art’ and ‘The Mullumbimby Kid – Where Did the Art Come From?’
Synthesis – Aspects of Creativity
(A synthesis of my two essays, ‘The Mullumbimby Kid – Where Did the Art Come From?’, and ‘Poetry and Art’ (both available for free downloading on this Website as part of Stardust Painter-Poet II)
The biggest problem of any artistic life (in any field) is to have the time/place/money and the priorities to actually ‘do’ – a room of one’s own – when historically this was only available to the leisured classes or through patronage of the exceedingly gifted/prolific (on some form of ‘winner take all’ basis).
In heavily-constricted middle-life I achieved my ‘expression’ through poetry; something that could be done on the bus or at boring meetings (while raising a family and holding down full-time and reasonably demanding jobs), when to mix ‘art’ with paid work (editor/commercial artist in the day, writer/painter at night) would be incredibly frustrating and difficult, and dare I say soul destroying.
All my life I had tried to establish a daily pattern of ‘doing’, discipline and ‘process’, as part of a codifying of experience: a synthesis while still alive/upon the question who am I? It was not until my retirement that I could afford the luxury (of time, and a dedicated space) to become a serious full-time (naïve/symbolic/‘psychological’) superannuated painter, enabling me to do precisely what I liked by removing the imperative to try to have to paint ‘commercial’ works.
Art is not something that one has to do for mere survival, and is probably more related to the ‘display’ category of courtship rituals (‘It’s still the same old story/a fight for love or glory’), where one’s ‘Muse’ is the object of one’s desire/or the someone one is trying to impress.
The two great impulses for art to me (as an evolutionary biologist) are the ‘vital sparks’ between the great polarities of death and sex.
The crushing truth of one’s own mortality (that some choose to distort through the ‘wishful thinking’ of religion), is a great driver of the arts. Others sublimate through politics (a kind of religious substitute in itself), or materialism, or drugs, or sport, or sensuality, or art, the true ‘Catholicism’ of the intellect that can transcend the carnal, and uplift, for the higher aesthetic response.
Ego is part of all of this as well, that in the face of death the individual should wish to seek a little immortality of sorts (‘world know my name/that I have lived’), through the ‘Selfish Meme’ of art.
Unhappy childhoods, illegitimacy, or parental death can help make artists too, for if such matters do not crush the developing psyche they can temper, and ultimately stimulate, causing individuals to become types of ‘watchers/witness figures’ to society.
Sex is the counterpoint and ‘antidote’ to death, achieved through reproduction of our kind, where beauty is seen through the eyes of desire, as sensuous lines carved on Neolithic bones. And desire, paradoxically, is enhanced by a limited availability of females (of each species), creating a relentless competition and ‘driver’ of evolution, when anything ‘wanton or in biological excess’ has something to do with sexual selection pressures (like deer antlers, bird plumage, or mag wheels (as found on the cars of young hoons in the 1970s)).
In New Guinea generations of choosy (and equally dowdy) female birds of paradise have led to an extreme diversity of male bird of paradise display (after the style of a peacock’s tail). Bird songs are to do with courtship and territory as well, both threatening and serenading of the unseen, and the unborn, when dance is a prelude to copulation in birds, and most of the animal kingdom. Male humpback whales sing to attract their mates, and research has shown that female humpbacks prefer the males with the biggest repertoires (Bob Dylan eat your heart out!).
Male satin bower birds are well-known for collecting blue display objects for their bowers. A bower is not a nest, more like a studio or pad: a ‘look at me, I’m better than the rest’ show-off or parading area, where the boys strut and preen to attract female bower birds. And male bower birds have been observed to actually ‘paint’ their bowers (with coloured clay, using a twig brush stick held in their beaks).
Charles Darwin has adequately demonstrated that these same imperatives apply to us. It is my sincere belief that the impulse for all human art, though highly mysterious, is an aberration and/or extension/elaboration of courtship rituals, an extension of the ‘bower creation’ instinct, where one may be courting ‘literally’, or only courting fame or territorial ‘respect’ (and for more footnote details see ‘Poetry and Art’).
Since writing this essay I have seen a remarkable video entitled ‘Fish Art’, of a small insignificant Japanese male puffer fish dubbed the ‘greatest animal artist’, who struggles for days to creates a large circular sand ‘Bora Ring’ or ‘Mandala’ of great perfection to attract a female puffer fish (with shells used to decorate the ridges of his construction). Such works are transient, as the currents soon come to wash his work away, reminiscent of the intricate geometric coloured sand patterns of Eastern religions, laboriously assembled to be then brushed away.
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To me ‘art’ has always been about the process, and of ‘learning by doing’ (and not necessarily a destination in itself), and certainly not academic or analytical, but highly ‘unconscious’ and ‘intuitive’. Paradoxically, degrees of ‘intellect’, memory, ‘self-consciousness’, technique, and knowledge of art history are required at the polishing stage, to raise each piece above the level of stick or finger-painting, in search of the ‘Arrh’.
One can do no more than ‘travel hopefully’ through the ‘cyclic’ process of creative blocks, working towards flow and grace, when sometimes the angels sing. And good artists, almost by definition, should be eternally self-critical, and ‘play good opponents’ if they want to try to lift their game.
* * *
Success in the arts, as in life generally, is a function of luck/time/people and place, and an ability to grasp opportunities, and this is mostly attitudinal. Mentors are incredibly important (and I acknowledge Gwen Kelly and Dick Edwards (for poetry) and Robin Norling and Jocelyn Maughan (for painting), with an extended list in Mullumbimby Dreaming).
It always helps if there is a role model in the family tree, a ‘someone else’ as Gwen Kelly said (in my case a great-great uncle, ‘Oliver Bainbridge’: poet, ‘anthropologist’, writer, orator, explorer, ‘diplomat’ and spy (with a possible link back to Horae Walpole, see Lord Nelson, Uncle Oliver and I (as also posted on this Website)), who gave the farm boy (myself, so totally unintimidated by the weight of art and literature) the gall to imagine that I too could be a poet (and a painter) when I grew up.
Successful artists need to have emotional excess and ‘fire in their guts’, and can sometimes be slightly manic and over-the-top. They need to be driven and obsessive, and have great discipline, intensity, unidirectionalism, focus, and a capacity for hard work (and a certain ruthlessness, as far as time and energy and resources are concerned). They also can be ‘on the spectrum’, and can sometimes be socially unbalanced/‘florid’, or ‘wounded souls’ (for if they were well-adapted to their lives they would hardly be trying to produce ‘enduring art’).
Talent is essentially genetic (luck in the draw of life), but is never enough, and requires application, tenacity and technique (achieved with about 10,000 hours of application), when a talent can at last shine through.
A long and difficult apprenticeship is required of each art form. To take the ‘path less travelled by’ requires considerable courage (verging on madness), plus some steel in the spine, and ice in the soul.
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And now for the bad news. Sadly my poetic career was almost scuttled (before it got off the ground) through the ‘Eileen’ incident (way back in 1975). Through a philosophical dislike of quotas of any kind I had had a poem published under a female pseudonym in Mother I’m Rooted (an anthology of Female Verse). Once more, to the evolutionary biologist in me, to select on the basis of gender (for poetry publication) was the equivalent to producing a book of blue-eyed poets (or brown-eyed should you wish, as both gender and eye colour are genetically determined before birth).
As a result of this I was sin-binned by the extreme Feminists (as a gender enemy) for 45 years, part of the general nastiness of the poetry scene, with rival poets notorious for taking down any form of competition (real or perceived). And for the record Jonathan Swift’s ‘Big Fleas’ poem is not about nature or ‘fleas’ a such, but literary infighting.
Male bower birds are nasty too, and hide in the shrubbery to dash out and destroy the unguarded bowers of rival males. Welcome to literature! Of course there are cliques, dogma, vogues and sacred cows of fashion orthodoxy in the art world too.
I have survived, and am so pleased to have done what I have done (both books and paintings), but would have starved without my day job.
10 August 2020