Joshua Smith at The Royal Art Society
Through Julian, Howard and Richard Ashton my family has had a long history with the Royals and I was delighted to be invited to open the Joshua Smith exhibition at their gallery. The President, Judy Pennefather PRAS, together with her wise committee of Fellows and the stalwart Secretary, Christine Feher, provide the members, of which I am proud to be one, with an ongoing legacy of inspired leadership in the art world.
It is my belief that art societies in Australia are important, not just for the fellowship they provide for artists, but also for the articulate voice they provide on behalf of their profession. If you sought justice in a court of law, received an adverse decision and subsequently discovered that the judge and your wise counsel had never studied law, you would be indignant. Artists entering competitions sometimes experience this. Societies are made up of fine art practitioners. As such they are, in my opinion, the best judges of art. Without wishing to lessen the importance of academics and gallery directors, who are a vital part of the equation, I think there is a strong desire among artists to be judged by their peers.
Yve Close was a lifelong friend and colleague of the late Joshua Smith. Having published a book on his life and organised several exhibitions of his work, it was by Yve’s inspiration that an exhibition was celebrated this year by the Sydney cultural icon, The Royal Art Society of New South Wales, of which he had been a proud Fellow. The exhibition was entitled ”Unsung Master” – and a master of painting and drawing he certainly was. Joshua was trained at the Julian Ashton Art School, where his significant contemporary was William Dobell. The famous court case which resulted from the contesting of the Trustees decision to award The Archibald Prize to a portrait of Joshua by Dobell tragically had a long term traumatic effect on both the artist and the sitter.
It was Yve Close and her husband John who assisted Joshua Smith with unfailing support to enable him to go on to enjoy a notable career as an artist and teacher. He was a frequent visitor to Ashton’s and I have fond memories of those occasions and our long discussions about artists and art.
The Principality of Wy sponsors The Archy Wyld Art Award. The judge is Prince Paul of Wy assisted by Archy Wyld, a Ring Tail Possum, who lives in a well appointed hollow log at The Principality. Archy grew up with art. In 1885 an Impressionist artist left a 9 by 5 inch cigar box lid painting in the Wyld hollow log home, never returning to retrieve it. Here is a drawing that the prince has made of his friend and fellow art judge. Like all possums in Australia, Archy Wyld is nocturnal and sleeps during the hot Sydney days. Archy prefers to be drawn under soft lighting. He is a frequent visitor to the studio of Prince Paul. When he sees a work of art that he likes Archy rings the little bell on his tail. He is very proud of The Archy Wyld Art Award
In the daytime Prince Paul has visits from very tiny native Australian birds; exquisite Silver Eyes, Finches and Wrens. They complain to the prince of the predations of larger birds. He is pleased that they find safe sanctuary in the dense prickly shrubs around his Studio. An old shaving mirror (See Why Wy? – below) provides much entertainment for the Prince’s feathered friends and they spend a great deal of time preening, which gives the prince opportunities to sketch them.
In August 2010 Auguste Blackman invited me to come to Melbourne to make a speech for his father, Charles Blackman, on the occasion of the launching of a hotel named for him as part of a series of Art Hotels.
We were ferried from the airport to our destination in a bus bearing Blackman images to St Kilda Road where we were greeted by an enormous backlit Alice. The crowded foyer of the huge hotel was decked with Charles’s Alice paintings and soon themed celebrations were in full swing. A banqueting table seating over a hundred luncheon guests was decorated with sculpted rabbits, foliage and elements from Blackman paintings.
Through the foliage Bertie Blackman, songwriter/singer daughter of Charles made herself visible across the table, delighted to be with her father in Melbourne. Charles remained dignified and outwardly unaffected by it all, although I am sure he was pleased by the attention of so many admirers of his work and especially happy to pick up a crayon when a model was provided by the hotel for those so inclined to draw.
I felt that the naming of the fine hotel was an excellent start. There should be Mount Blackman and following that – a comet. Comment has been made of his supposed frailty of late but I know my old magician friend to be as sharp witted and as observant as ever. Long may he live and draw, this grand old man of Australian Art. Paul