Australian Fine Artist

Brett Colquhoun

Visiting Artist at Frankston Chisholm

Brett completed a Diploma of Graphic Design. Swinburne College of Technology in 1978 which puts him roughly in the same age bracket as me. Sometimes it is good to hear from a practising artist that is close to your own age to help make some comparisons. Also with a good amount of experience and a broad range of work to show, it is interesting to see the development of an artist’s career and style over time.

As he started in the graphics area, as I did and several artists that I know, I didn’t find it unusual that Brett began his journey there. A lot of artists have to make the choice of working in the graphics field to bring in the regular money so they can continue to do what is their passion (often painting or sculpting etc). Being a full time fine artist usually means very irregular income, which landlord and supermarkets don’t really like. So if you want to be independent and eat, compromise is often called for.

Working in another area often happens until mortgages are paid off and kids have left home. This is where the mature artist can return to their first love. In my case I was made redundant in 2009 and my husband has supported my desire to return to painting. One door opens as another closes.

Brett didn’t have fine art training but pursued drawing and painting on his own, and with a lot of experimenting and research has gradually built up a body of work that reflects his interests. He has been able to exhibit in galleries and been in solo and group exhibitions. Being in the right place at the right time meant he was picked up by a couple of galleries over the years and he has received several grants.

This doesn’t mean that he has sold a lot of work, on the contrary, he mentioned that he hasn’t sold a great deal. This is also something we as emerging artists need to think about as we build our businesses. We need to plan how we are going to generate income. If sales don’t come, we need to teach, demonstrate, apply for grants or get part time work in other areas.

Brett started by applying to publishers to do illustrating work. At the time there was more of that around, but today much of it is done on computers so hand drawing is not as frequently required. His work is what I would call minimal. Brett is influenced by the German artist Munch and the expressionist style of painting. His titles and themes often called from poems, movies etc. The presentation we saw had works from his earliest to fairly recent paintings and collages. Much of the work relies on the titles as the minimal amount of information on the actual painting or drawing doesn’t tell a lot. Some works can be interpreted in a multitude of ways depending on how you look at the positive and negative space that Brett has designed.

Even though Brett has moved away from his graphics background I still found a lot of its influence in his work. I think most who understand graphics would see elements of it in his paintings and drawings. Some pieces could easily be used as logos or icons and the graphic black and white images reminded me of work we did in the eighties for publishing books.

Brett’s work around the theme of memory and looking through windows to hazy and muted landscapes were a bit more to my liking with variety in tonal values and more of a story that I could see without having the strain too hard thinking about them. Sometimes we need something easier rather than confronting or ambiguous.

Over all, though I found Brett to be an interesting speaker and even though his work isn’t something I would do myself or necessarily go out of my way to see in a gallery, it had aspects that could be applied to any artistic style. What I did like was his continual search for interesting subjects and methods for his art. As we discussed after the talk, just because we get older in the body, we don’t have to age in our imagination or creativity, that can stay young for our entire lifetime. Have a look at examples like Margaret Ollie, whose work stayed fresh and luscious until the last and I am sure there are many others.

So, no matter what age you are, if you have the passion to paint or draw, get out there and get started. Creativity. It’s all in your head.

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