Visiting Artist Talk at Chisholm TAFE
Graeme Drendel was born in Ouyen in Victoria, a rural town with a large farming community. His family was what could be described as a typical farming family, with their interests based mainly around the farm and not so much in literature and art.
The rest of the family went in different directions for their livelihood to that of Graeme who when able, went to Ballarat to study. He then came to Melbourne to complete a Diploma of Teaching (Art and Craft).
During his twenties Graeme did little painting if any, he became a father and soon became a sole parent role. An interest in playing music in a band and keeping in touch with art gave him outlets during the years up to the age of thirty until he went back to teaching in his early thirties.
During the 1990s Graeme was able to travel overseas, which gave him the opportunity to see art that he had probably only seen in books until then. In Italy he discovered the work of the early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca and back in Australia he was also inspired by the Polish-French modern artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola). After being shown his work today I can see the influences of both these artists in his paintings.
As the slide show was being set up, Graeme did a good job of talking to us about his interests and how he works. I was very interested in his visual diaries (sketch books). A lot of his observational skills have been honed in these books. Time spent whilst on holidays, travelling around or just waiting somewhere have been well used by gaining better observational skills. With the simple tools of pencils, gauche and sketch book, ideas for future paintings have been worked out, skills in drawing and painting the human form have been increased and translation of what he saw to the page and into a piece of art have been honed.
Graeme sees these books as records of his life and progress in his art. They record where he has been and what he has learnt and are great references for his work today.
Looking at Graeme’s work as the slides went up on the wall, showed his progress from Italy and obvious influence in colour and subject in his work, through to the further experimentation and growth over more than ten years to a place where he feels he is developing a style and body of work that reflects his personality, his memories, imagination and interests.
As Graeme has spent so much time drawing and observing, he is now able to allow his paintings to evolve on the paper or canvas. If he needs a reference he still has his books, or he can use a handy live model to get the details and proportions correct, but the whole work can be more organic in the way it is built up. He says that he loves getting the surprises that happens when a work takes an unexpected turn and something he didn’t plan and had no idea would occur, does.
Rather than painting what others think he should, or following a set style of the moment, Graeme paints paintings that he would like to look at. He quoted Jedd Pearl, a New York Art Writer and critic, regarding beauty and art which seems to cover why he paints what he does. With no hidden or disguised agenda or social message, the paintings are left for the viewer to discover and explain to themselves. The stories can be whatever they see in them.
Painting as he wishes in his own style means that Graeme may not be painting “to the market place”, although he is represented at Australian Galleries and other regional galleries in Australia, and is about to hold another solo exhibition. With poor sales in a lot of the art market over the past several years and closures of commercial galleries, even painting in a more generic or traditional style with “middle of the road” subjects doesn’t mean that sales will follow. So he paints what he likes.
If people are hanging on to their discretionary spending, no matter what kind of art you are creating, it will not sell. People have to like something enough to want it – not need it. The emotional connection has to be made where someone “just has to have it”. Since people have such different interests and tastes, there is a lot of room for a variety of subjects and styles of artwork, but again if people are not spending – you can’t force them into it.
I admire Graeme for sticking to his guns and painting to suit himself. It is too easy to be pushed into an area that just isn’t “you”, especially for young and emerging artists who are still developing their style and working out what they like and where they want to head in their career.
My strategy is: Admire many, look at everything, learn about as much as you can, take on whatever you think will add to your skills and understanding – then make it your own – and never leave home without your sketch book!
Thank you Graeme for sharing your sketches, paintings and processes with us today.