Tag Archives: Robert Chuter

PICASSO’S CURIOSITY: RUV NEMIRO

By Roberto Chuter

“We artists can be happy just having freedom and being able to express ourselves…” – Ruv Nemiro

It was almost certain that every time I waited on the corner of Carlisle Street for the No. 16 tram, I would bump into Ruv Nemiro. On the tram he would grab me by the arm and laughing he would try to convince me to get involved with one of his schemes to sell or promote his artwork. This was a regular occurrence on every single tram ride.

With his chubby physique and rubbing his thinning grey hair with his hand, I would slowly help him off the tram at Barkly Street. Then he would say  tome: “You understand?” In his broken  English he always repeated that sentence to me smiling and laughing. Unfortunately, I didn’t or couldn’t understand, but we laughed over it anyway.

Ruv went to his studio on Barkly Street regularly and would sit and create for hours on end. He loved his art and rarely missed a day. I used to pop in briefly to chat with him when I was visiting the studio and there he would be – sculpting, drawing, painting or reading one of his many art books.

Late last year he invited me to his studio, I did go and then, quite unexpectedly, he presented me with a gift. I was surprised and delighted to acquire one of his canvases featuring a let’s say ‘Rubensque’ lady with perfect bosoms, reclining naked on an abstract chaise lounge. It was painted lovingly in various shades of vivid aqua, blue, a touch of white and some small splashes of black. It was luminous.

“I dedicate my art to my friends, those that I was fortunate to have come across and those that I yet have to meet in my life. To the friends who are with us today and to those who have gone forever remaining in my memory and heart. I dedicate it to my dear friends, with whom I have spent my best years,” he said.

Ruv was born in 1937 as Ruvim Nemirovsky in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. From 1952-1957 he studied at the Institute of Art in Uzbekistan and received his post graduate degree in Fine Art at St. Petersburg in 1961.

In the early 70’s, Ruv was selected to be in a small group of artists to fly to France to meet with the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. “My Dad told me stories about it, and he told me what he said to him: “I want to make your portrait” and Picasso replied: “I am very interested to see it,” said Ruv’s son,the artist Alex Nemirovsky. “My father created he same portrait here in Australia and this work is still with me.” Picasso was most curious about this renowned Soviet Union artist and sculptor.

Subsequently, Picasso died in 1973 but Ruv did paint a portrait and gave it to Picasso’s family foundation. Due to the strong KGB surveillance at the time, it is not known if they ever received Ruv’s work. In 1976, he worked with the British sculptor Henry Moore, in London and his artistic acquaintances included Marc Chagall amongst others.

Ruv had over 55 years of experience in monumental sculpture, for which he won many international and national awards and commissions in the former USSR having won the National Public Art Competition eight times and he was a Professor at the St. Petersburg Fine Art Academy for a number of years.

His sculptures were highly regarded and he was commissioned to create, design and build a 50 foot sculpture of Uzbek National Legendary Hero – Farhad. Ruv, with his extraordinary artistic ability, also designed palaces, restaurants and stadiums in Australia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Many of his works are to be found in Australia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkey and other countries in Europe and Asia. In addition to his sculptures Ruv was a prolific painter exploring a variety of different techniques and genres. He led an enviable life; his list of high calibre clients and commissions range from royalty right through to political leaders.

Ruv immigrated to Australia with his (ex) wife in 1990 to be with his son, the artist Alex Nemirovsky. His daughter Stella and her family followed a few years later.

Ruv set up his Barkly Street studio in 1995 with artists Maria Leonard, Heidi Knoepfli and Patricia Buck.

Maria Leonard remembers Ruv: “The Artists Studio106 was founded n 1995, that means I knew Ruv for over 23 years! The first time I met him he poked his big head into my studio saying: “Oh, I can see we have philosopher here! I will come past and talk to you!” We only had curtains on our studios in those days, so it was very easy to chat. He was certainly a force to reckon with! In those early years his English was much better and his voice was loud and he drank lots of vodka! Often he put on noisy parties in his studio with his Russian friends. All the artists at the studio were invited too!! He served salami and pickles and bread. Of course, there was plenty of vodka too!. If we did not eat or drink, he would be most offended. As I got to know him better, I could see the gentle soul behind the big bear! Both Ruv and I used the studio like our second home! Of course we started to annoy each other, that was inevitable.

He loved to call his friends and family after his lunch.  Our telephone was situated right next to my studio! So it happened most days. I often only had 3 hours to do my work, and I found it very annoying and I couldn’t work, listening to all the Russians bellowing! It always sounded like he was fighting with someone? I was not the only one angry, some artists actually left because of Ruv, I am sorry to say! I begged him and I pleaded with him to make his telephone calls at home! But nothing really helped, he just smiled and laughed at me trying to explain why it was important. Often he called his sister in New York! and after one particular longish call, I had enough so cut the telephone cord! He still responded with smiles and laughter. At least he had a good sense of humour! Thankfully, the telephone calls became less frequent, or maybe I just became used to it,” laughs Maria.

‘Ruv loved all the other artists, he said we are his family! Two of our founding artists at the studio left after a few years. And Ruv made sure he would stay in contact, calling them up and asked how they are going? One dear friend, the sculptor Robert Giannini, moved to Tasmania. They both stayed in contact for many years. Sadly, Robert now suffers with Alzheimer’s disease and I haven’t told him about Ruv.

Heidi Knoepfli, smiling, recalls: “I met a vibrant handsome, with a twinkle in his eye, Ruv over 20 years ago at Artists Studio 106. He occupied an upstairs studio and I was in the downstairs sculpture studio. After several invitations he finally turned up for a visit to my huge basement studio. His eyes lit up when he saw this tucked away cavernous space. He said sotto voce: “You could make Vodka here!” with his cheeky laugh. Well Ruv, that never really occurred to me! Though I knew where he was coming from. I had read a smidgen of Tolstoy and Pasternak in my late teens which gave me a glimpse into the Russian culture and with it I knew he was dead serious. Sure enough on our next encounter, laughing loudly, he produced a recipe for making vodka written out of an old exercise book paper page with lines which I suspected was a treasured family heirloom. The recipe required huge quantities of ingredients, equipment and 50kg of potatoes. And it was just a trial run. Ruv, ever the consummate entrepreneur was thinking big. Very big! Needless to say our creative collaboration never took off.”

In 1993, he created and designed “The Lady of St. Kilda” together with his son Alex which was installed on the old Carlisle Street bridge in Balaclava. The sculpture, made of steel and enamel paint, features an impression of the ship (known to have given St. Kilda its name), flanked by mermaids and sea creatures floating on ocean waves. “That was a collaboration of the Painter and Sculptor, and this is why it was unique, the successful part of this project was the idea of painting the form on the flat metal collages,“ said Alex.

“I created full size drawings of it and my Dad created metal forms from it and the structure. And after I made a painting of it. They were four different stages and it took over a year to make. We were a great team and had a great understanding. The work was created on a very small budget and in the end we had to pay people from our pockets to complete it. Since then, unfortunately the mural has been vandalized and the council has just ignored that. It could have been easily saved 26 years ago. As a result it has never looked even 30% from its original look. We did it for people of St. Kilda on a rusted and ugly bridge not for vandals!”

Ruv was a real character with a sharp eye for a pretty girl, some good vodka and a beloved art book. He was a true artist, a father, a human, a friend and a teacher.

Today, his evocative gift hangs on my wall, in odd moments it catches my eye and makes me smile. Then suddenly for a fleeting moment it has a life of its own as I hear Ruv’s voice saying:

”You understand?” But now I do understand. I understand that I was lucky and most fortunate to have had our paths cross.

Ruv Nemiro passed away on 27 September 2019, his presence and laughter is solely missed by many.

“Everyman’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived, what he did and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Fortunately, Ruv’s legacy remains – his extraordinary catalogue of artworks.

A SILVER AESTHETIC: JOSIE WADELTON

“I just love red and every variation of red – they burn into me…” –

By Roberto Chuter

Here is a Google searched definition of a Bohemian: “True modern day bohemians are people who operate from the margins. They are aware that we have inherited a world whose ideologies are depleted and can only be refreshed from outside the box. They work in co-operation with like-minded souls or in solitude, in refreshing our culture.”

This, in particular, could easily be an apt description of the St. Kilda based Italian artist Josephine A Wadelton, better known simply as Josie. Wadleton has been described by some as “The doyen of the St. Kilda arts scene”, “An idiosyncratic figure, mostly swathed in burgundy or purple or both…”and “Her impeneratable eyes and inscrutable countenance, at times, give little away. “

Bohemians like Wadelton usually do what they want, they live life their way, they value freedom and solitude, creativity and all things aesthetic. Call them ”arty-farties,” “bohos,” “free-spirits,” but basically they don’t care. Mostly, they possess a unique and individual artistry, so “artist” may be another word to describe Wadelton. Some think “artist” reeks of pretentiousness, but to me ‘artist’ is perfectly acceptable. As far as I’m aware there is no other word for ‘artist’ other than specific types like a painter or illustrator. . However, it’s still a label really and labels, as far as I am concerned, are for soup cans.

Of course Wadelton has done most of the exhibition gigs or group shows including forty five downstairs, “The Robots Are Coming” at Artists Studio 106, “Collective Momentum” at the Carlisle Street Art Space, MUFF Kunst! Violence Exhibition, St. Kilda Art Crawl and numerous others. Her work has been featured in the films “A Beautiful Request,” “The Dream Children,” “106 Artists: Follow Your Dreams” and “Golden Parrots at the Gallery.”

Wadelton says: “The major focus in my work is to express the inward significance of an art work. What’s represented on the physical level has a cryptic hidden meaning therefore my interest in text, colour, numbers and codes. A lot of my influences have been Surrealism, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. I draw inspiration from the language and structure of poetry and scientific terminology. I’ve also explored a variety of materials and techniques, like painting on canvas, collage, digital media, soft sculpture, photography and more recently the moving image.”

In August 2010, at the now defunct Guildford Lane Gallery, Wadelton created a memorable mixed media installation entitled: “Defaced: The Exhibition” which focused on books which have been banned, burned and defaced. Her artistic recreation of the books enabled some of the authors and characters to materialise amongst her works. A coterie of talented actors in appropriate costume performed short extracts from the texts. The guests were stunned, captivated, delighted and were quite taken aback when D. H. Lawrence read an extract from his book “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” about simultaneous orgasms, Patrick Bateman read the horrific rat chapter from “American Psycho”, Humbert Humbert read the famous first sentence from “Lolita” – ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Then old Radcliffe Hall followed with her classic “The Well of Loneliness” about lesbianism, a stoned William Burroughs read from “Junkie” and finally a Hitler Youth recited from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” as a prayer.

There was a long silence when the readings ended. Anyone for the bar? The guests were all dumbstruck and speechless. Applause followed sometime afterward then they did quickly head for the bar. Wadelton, smiling, was successful. The bohemian had done what art was supposed to do: communicate ideas – politically, historically, spiritually or philosophically. She created a unique aesthetic, an exploration of perception; for pleasure and to generate strong emotions.

In November 2014, a collaboration between Wadelton and St. Kilda filmmaker Katrina Mathers produced a 3 minute experimental film entitled: “The Worship.” It was screened at Venice International Experimental Film and Performance Art Festival.

“This was my first foray into working with moving image digital media. It melded several socio-religious and culture elements together. Ethiopian women, in a Greek Orthodox Christian Church in the centre of Palermo Sicily, prayed as though driven by some sacred invisible force,” says Wadelton, “Their body language acted as a fluid connection between the architecture of the once Muslim Church and its Medieval icons, mosaics and sacred images. This short has now been exported from the Old World to the New World enriching and nurturing a new audience.”

Mathers created a visual biography about Wadelton entitled “In Her Silence” in 2018. Within a background of Wadelton’s work she talks of her love for the mystery and fragility of colour. The  biography also explores a trance-like, meditative and pensive monologue which transcends and challenges the mainstream. Wadelton speaks of her love of silence, of her enduring attachment to art and aesthetics and of the legacy she hopes to pass onto her four adored grandchildren.

“Josie’s incredibly unique, there’s no-one else on the planet like her. She embodies a wonderful strength, she’s inspiring, enigmatic, perceptive and always able to find beauty in the things around her. I feel so honoured to know and be able to work with her. A truly generous and creative spirit.,” comments Mathers.

Both Mathers and Wadelton also created two other video arts, one entitled “Delirious” – A d-word abstract experimental piece created by using the apps “Glitché” & “KinoGlitch which explores the power of words beginning with the letter D. and the second piece “Klunk Memorial” also created by using an app. “This one is my interpretation of “Fallen Leaves” a sculptural installation created by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman,” said Wadelton.

Chatting over cafe latte and English Breakfast tea (with Almond milk) I was curious to know how and why Wadelton came to live in Australia…

“The Simeonis’ – my family, emigrated to Australia in 1950. They were originally from Udine in Northern Italy. After the Second World War,my father heard and read  wonderful stories about the “lucky country.” So after he finished working for the Italian Navy in Venice, off we sailed to Australia and settled in Clifton Hill leaving behind aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents and also the beauty of Italian Art, History and Architecture.”

Other questions came to mind, so I asked.

What did you do before you became an artist?

“I was always an artist. I knew that at 4. I remember while at primary school in Italy being shown the wonderful works of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Giotto, Fra Angelico, and Raphael. The nuns asked us to draw like Leonardo! So I was quite shocked when I first went to school in Australia that all the kids were drawing stick figures. I made up my mind then and there that I would be an artist and return to Italy and revisit those Florentine, Renaissance, and Roman cities. Then after finishing high school I studied FIne Arts at the University of Melbourne and went on to art school at RMIT. I ended up teaching art in various high schools in Melbourne and teaching art in high school was not taken seriously back in the 60’s. It was a time for playing up. I was quite relieved to stay at home with my mother and not venture back into the school room. Discipline was not my forte and still isn’t.”

Why do you do the work that you do?

“Because there is a strong creative impulse that drives me.”

Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts?

“Being totally surrounded by the creative community here in St. Kilda, the artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers and the rest.”

What do you think are some of the negatives in your work?

“Struggling with large scale compositions!”

What’s been some of the positives in your work do you think?

“A burning desire to research a subject which will lead to a convincing and informative exhibition or installation.”

If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path would have followed Josie?

“Archaeology, definitely.”

Which people or what inspires you to work in the arts?

“Peggy Guggenheim. What a wonderful legacy she has left to the world. This year I was lucky enough to see an exhibition by Jean Arp at the Guggenheim Museum. Peggy’s permanent collection includes works by Max Ernst, Picasso, Braque, Calder, Mondrian, Magritte, Jackson Pollock and Kandinsky. I was also fortunate to see Gilbert and George at a live interview at the NGV. They are both known for their distinctive and notably formal appearance and manner in performance art and also for their brightly coloured graphic-style photo-based artworks.”

What are you currently working on?

“I have been greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement of the early 20th century. The Bauhaus was one of these movements that gave design a unique place in history: a discipline that fused art and craftsmanship with a philosophical approach. In German, Bauhaus literally means “construction house.” Some of the most notable Bauhaus artists and designers included Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Mies Van der Rohe, Wassily Kandinsky, and László Moholy-Nagy. It was also the first school to admit female students to its institution! Though the women were relegated mostly to the crafts department, they nevertheless designed avantgarde furniture, tableware, carpets, textile crafts, woven wall hangings and tapestries. The weaving loom design is mostly limited because of its bold verticals and horizontals. So this is how I developed my latest project  based on the Grid. Also,  wonderfully, I have discovered the power of  apps! They have changed the way I create my art work. Using apps I am able to transform and change the scale of my art into various shapes and sizes.”In recent years, Wadelton has suffered with the incurable and mysterious disorder Fibromyalgia. But with her usual bohemian bravado, Wadelton manages the condition like the execution of one of her artworks – carefully, calmly and with much patience.

“The one big luxury I have is to live alone, to be on my own. Which is amazing. Just love being on my own. I never get lonely, that’s one gift I have, I never get lonely. I just like to be alone.“

Now in her early 70’s, Wadelton with her stylish dress sense, crop of silvery hair, still possesses a beauty and aesthetic that emanates originality. Josie Wadelton – the artist and bohemian, lives by the Gilbert and George quote: “To be with Art is all I ask…”. And she is.

 

BORN-AGAIN BLAKFELLA: UNCLE JACK CHARLES

By Roberto Chuter

One of the most frightening scenes in Fred Schepisi’s 1978 film adaptation of Thomas Keneally novel “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” is sodomy and murder of blackfella Harry Edwards. This character was played by a young and talented aboriginal actor named Jack Charles.

I came across Jack Charles again while researching Jack Hibberd’s play “Dimboola” for the anniversary season to be produced at La Mama Theatre. This was a film again, but vastly different in tone and character. An even younger Jack Charles appears playing the energetic (and mainly drunk) Mutton in the Pram Factory’s 1973 film “Dimboola: The Stage Play”.

They say that good things come in threes, well this was certainly the case in 2014 when in front of a live audience I interviewed award-winning filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson whose intimate documentary “Bastardy” (2008) chronicled the life of Jack Charles over seven years. The film’s tagline boasted – ‘Addict. Homosexual. Cat burglar. Actor. Aboriginal.’ Really, there was no need to boast, the film itself stands alone – although its starts fairly heavy handed. But what follows is provocative, funny and profoundly moving. He was now Uncle Jack Charles.

“If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction,” says Uncle Jack, as he plunges a needle of heroin into his vein. Simon Foster, the SBS Reviewer wrote: “The most significant achievement of “Bastardy” is its confidence to allow the viewer scope to interpret its intentions. As a portrait of a damaged man, ravaged by substance abuse and poorly exploiting the natural gifts bestowed upon him, the film is insightful, personal and candid; more broadly, Courtin-Wilson invites the viewer to see his film as a commentary – society’s shameful disdain for the homeless, Australia’s disregard for its fallen artists, the inexplicable invisibility – to all but those that know him – of an old man junkie. “Bastardy” never demands you consider these themes, but it trusts you will.”

“I sleep in the ladies toilet because it smells nicer, ” says Uncle Jack smiling. How can you not watch a doco about this roguish actor and thief? I was intrigued, curious and wanted to know more about Uncle Jack and so I did. He was born on 05 September 1943. One of the many victims of the Government’s forced “assimilation programme” (called the ‘Stolen Generation’) which forcibly took him from his Bunurong mother when he was only a few months old. He was raised in the Salvation Army Boys’ Home in Box Hill, the only Indigenous child, where he suffered sexual abuse and was told he was an orphan.

Uncle Jack has always been searching, trying to find out who he was. The isolation and loneliness that he experienced over those years had a devastating impact on Uncle Jack that endured long after he found his stolen identity. A few years ago after reconnecting with his Aboriginal roots he discovered who is father was, and that he is a Wiradjuri man, a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta.

In December 2014, after much difficulty trying to find Uncle Jack, I eventually invited him to be interviewed at Chapel Off Chapel along with another guest rock musician, singer/songwriter Dave Graney. Uncle Jack warmly accepted and it was an absolute hoot, the live audience were enamoured. Acknowledged as the ‘grandfather of Aboriginal theatre’ in Australia, Uncle Jack co-founded the first Aboriginal Theatre Company – ‘Nindethana’ in 1972. His acting career spans over six decades appearing in numerous films and TV series including “Rake”, “Rosehaven”, “Wolf Creek”, “Mystery Road”, “The Gods of Wheat Street”, “Woodley”, “Women of the Sun”, “Rush” and “Ben Hall”. Not to mention the many plays and talks to boot.

In 2009, Uncle Jack was awarded the prestigious Tudawali Award at the Message Sticks Festival, honouring his lifetime contribution to Indigenous media. He was also the recipient of a Green Room Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 and in 2016 was named Victorian Senior Australian of the Year and more recently he received the Red Ochre Award. Not bad for a former drug addict and petty criminal with a lot of prison time up his sleeve!.

Fast forward to late 2019 and I am in St. Kilda Library flipping through the pages of a book about 9/11 when a flyer is thrusted at me by one of the librarians. Uncle Jack again. This time it was the book launch of his autobiography “Born Again Blakfella” (written with Namila Benson) at the library. So I rock up in the evening to hear him speak to a packed room. I didn’t want to miss it – none of his magic had dissipated and at 74 years he was still alert, warmly political and entertaining as always. After an affectionate embrace and a brief exchange with this pint-sized dynamo, I left smiling, his signed book in my hand.

Uncle Jack Charles is one of the nations most respected and enduring personalities, a strong role model for a new generation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. And thank goodness.

DESTINY OF A WARRIOR: ANTHONY BRESLIN

By Roberto Chuter 

“Painting is a metaphor for a person’s life…” – Anthony Breslin 

It’s middle 1991, I am working in a disused church in Gardenvale on the casting for the improvisational site specific production of “I’ve Danced With A Girl Who Danced With The Prince of Wales” in the ballroom at Rippon Lea. One Saturday or Sunday afternoon there was loud bashing on the side door of the church. This entrance was rarely used so I opened it with reluctance. As I opened the door, a young man fell inside. He was dressed in a light blue t-shirt, grubby grey gym pants, thongs and sported a slighting fuzzy mullet. This was my very first introduction to Anthony Breslin. Subsequently, he managed to charmingly ingratiate himself into the production and the next one “The Miracle of the Rose’. We have been friends and colleagues ever since. 

Artist Breslin, based in St. Kilda, has become an original force within the Australian art scene ever since then and has produced 60+ solo exhibitions both in Australia and internationally, including exhibitions in Barcelona, Bern, Dublin, Hong Kong, London Prague, Zurich and Shanghai. Breslin has also attained acclaim as an original theatrical and installation artist. He performed at the Melbourne Convention Centre for the closing ceremony of the Parliament of World Religions, as well as performing at the ‘Signature of M’ art prize gala night at the Central Pier Venue in Docklands and the Conscientia Festival in Salt Lake City, US. Breslin has created many large scale community and charity projects. He has become passionate about working with various marginalised groups and schools to induce focus and awareness on the importance of commonality, belonging, and rites of passage. 

So, there was some many questions and answers I wanted to ask Breslin, so I did: 

What did you do before you became an artist?

I pursued a career in acting and before that I worked in a conventional job in the rag trade which made me miserable!. I wrote a play during this time about a suicidal man living the wrong life, it was called “Clive potter: Poet!” I was writing of course about me stuck in a life that seemed impossible to escape. I searched for something else and opportunities arose that enabled me to see another path. I started by doing extra work and modelling and then I found ways to break into doing theatre where my life really changed. My interaction with the people I met and worked with inspired me to pursue a creative life. I worked in cafes and did labouring to keep money coming in. I didn’t enjoy these jobs so I searched for something else that was theatrical and different this brought me to doing singing telegrams which lead me to becoming a stripper. I worked in this field for several years and quickly I became the top performer in the company. I’d do 5~6 jobs all over Melbourne on a Saturday night. It gave me many fascinating life experiences and freed up my life to pursue other things. After a few years I left it all as I won a TV show called “Man O Man” on Channel 7 where the prize was a trip to Africa, ironically it was the place I most wanted to go to. I spent over 2 years wandering through Africa, Europe and the Middle East during this time I drew obsessively. My drawings were sent back to Australia in cardboard tubes. Thanks to my sister these drawings got me an interview for art school at RMIT. I flew home to try to get in, I did. 

How did you become an artist? 

I finished art school after 3 years yet during this time I worked ambitiously to exhibit in unconventional spaces, like Wax Studios in Richmond. I even managed to direct, produce and design a large production of my own play “Clive Potter: Poet!” Art history inspired me greatly, I fell in love with its history of philosophical ideas. When I left art school I was determined to make it my paying occupation against all odds. I experimented greatly and slowly through a religious work ethic I started to develop my own unique creative voice. Opportunities arose through the risks I took and before long I was exhibiting and selling lots of my work. I felt very self conscious calling myself an artist but once it became my “job” I had to as it was all I did. Through it I created an exciting lifestyle that started to take me all over the world exhibiting and doing theatrical performance pieces. This lasted for many many years until blood cancer came into my life and changed everything drastically again. 

Why do you do the work that you do Anthony? 

The work has always just come through me, my imagination has always been vivid, I just start, that’s the hardest part and then the work itself guides me. I just make sure I keep listening. I have never needed to use things from the natural world as a direct subject matter or for inspiration. Within a short time I became excited by found objects and began to incorporate them into my work everything from zippers to tennis rackets. They all helped me create tactile compositions that wanted to jump from the canvas. I made a lot of work constantly, experimental repetition led to many, many new discoveries, soon I was excitedly plagiarising and developing all my own ideas within the private world of my studio. I never experienced any mental blocks. My mind seemed forever active with ideas. I have always been very athletic so I began to create performances governed by time and physical constraints to raise the level of intensity and challenge for me as the performer and artist. The artist as athlete really interested me. Also I believed that I needed to make things difficult so I had something to overcome. This way of thinking was an affliction I carried always. I also wanted the audiences to experience some of the energetic drive of my creative, obsessive process. 

What inspires your work? 

I could always draw, so initially I was inspired to make art because it was the only thing that interested me at school and I seemed to be good at it. Over time I returned to it because I loved the process of creating in isolation. Acting gave me many wonderful experiences yet put me on the line to be judged directly. This process compounded my self doubt and insecurities regarding my acting abilities. With art it felt very different, here I worked safely in private investigating what lay within. People judged my creations and not me directly. Over time as my style developed I became less consumed with what people thought as I could only create my work in my own way, so it seemed pointless to become attached to others perceptions either way. This further liberated me to explore and take creative risks. The diversity of artists creations fascinated me and moved me greatly. I love the fact it’s a language beyond words, beyond reason, beyond one interpretation. I have been moved to tears many times standing in silence in front of art that spoke to me deeply. And that is a precious thing. 

Your artwork seems to span all kinds of mediums, can you tell us about these different mediums and why you chose to do this? 

My work spans the use of many mediums, paint, pencil, found objects, pastel, charcoal, ink etc., as well as performance and large scale installations built with all kinds of 

building materials. I never had any intention of restricting or limiting myself re materials or environments where I could create. So I ended up designing and building things like sets for music videos and theatre, winning an Aria Award along the way and earning an AFI nomination. All these experiences inspired me to keep broadening my creative horizons as I loved the challenge and it greatly inspired me to create my own performance art productions like “Trybe: An Opera in Paint”. My experiences using a broad range of materials also inspired more ideas and the further use of new materials. My paintings and drawings seem to still have a unifying style no matter what mediums I used. People were still able to recognise my work no matter what new materials I used it also kept me interested in producing and not stale. Inadvertently it kept people who collected my work interested and keen to purchase new works. 

Could you tell us about your Breslin Gallery? 

The Breslin Gallery was a dream I wanted to realise for a long time. I started a studio complex with an illegally built little theatre in St. Kilda many years ago. I was never one to let rules restrict me. When an old church came up for sale in Carnegie I became obsessed with trying to find a way to buy it. After much effort and negotiating I found a way to do it at a high risk for me. The building needed a complete build from the inside out which was going to put me into massive debt. I became the owner builder and under great stress managed the build working full time for 3 years doing labour on the site, from sunrise till nightfall. After many ups and downs I could see the finishing line, and then the implausible happened, somebody broke in during the night and set fire to the building causing around $380,000 worth of damage. The perpetrators were never caught. After an investigation the insurer found a reason to not pay for the damages, they assumed I would walk away because it was a powerful bank. This became a hugely stressful nightmare for me. I took the insurer to court which tested me mentally on every level, yet I was in a disastrous situation so I had to try something. After months and months in court and fundraisers to keep me afloat I was offered half the damage bill and I still had to pay a huge amount in legal fees. I took the payout I had to, I was desperate, wonderful support re fund raising and lots of cost cutting for the rebuild helped get the gallery open eventually. It was wonderful. I had a cafe in the place, a large gallery space, a place upstairs for me to live, a studio for me and a residence on the top floor. We held wonderful exhibitions, ran classes in all things creative, held concerts and supported 

marginalised groups and raised money for groups and individuals who needed it. The Breslin Gallery quickly became a much loved community creative hub. And then soon after blood cancer struck me down. I kept the place going through extreme sickness and long stints in hospital having and recovering from a bone marrow transplant and then kidney failure. At this point my cafe owner walked out of his lease and my neighbour began reporting the breaches of my restricted permit to council. I knew the stress was going to kill me to keep it running, so I did what I never imagined I would do, I sold the building under its value and walked away. My life has been under threat ever since from many serious health issues, which have destroyed my career. 

You have suffered a number of personal setbacks. Do you think these are explored subconsciously in your artwork? 

In 2014 I was diagnosed with leukaemia, the same leukaemia that killed my brother at 38 back in 1994. This turned my world upside down as it led to a bone marrow transplant, severe graft host disease and kidney failure amongst many other issues. To this day I still contend with chronic pain, disability and chronic fatigue and frequent bouts in hospital to help keep me here a bit longer. It goes without saying this has greatly affected my ability to work at all as well as the imagery its if both consciously and unconsciously. Going through so much life threatening illness has certainly altered all my perceptions of life, death and dying. Things that seemed so important when I was thriving and an ambitious creative, obsessive workaholic with illness became unimportant. Cancer or any life threatening disease forces one to investigate what’s deep inside and that’s its blessing. For me aspirations of commercial achievement, success and ambition faded away. When I lost my health I realised it was all that mattered next to connecting to other humans with my heart, through kindness, empathy and compassion

What do you think have been some of the negatives in your work? 

I don’t experience my work in negatives or positives. My impatience, and creative aggression along with my obsessive nature all have contributed to the creating of my work as it is, and as it was. Also my discipline and habit of pushing myself so hard allowed me to create a large volume of work and discoveries which in turn created 

opportunities and allowed me to build an audience. Yet it also greatly depleted my body and I believe helped lead to illness. My nature created my reality and hence the opportunities I had. I always would just dive into things taking risks always. In my case the risks hurt me yet also gave me my greatest achievements of all. It’s all intertwined and interlocked into a complex manifestation. 

What’s been your favourite achievements up to this point? 

I have had many wonderful moments, and so many exhibitions I have been proud of. All the different productions/incarnations of my show “Trybe” have meant so much to me. The first one was wonderful down at the Docklands, the second at Chapel Off Chapel. My performers and crews were wonderful to work with and both shows were so well received. In 2006, my week long stint in the Myer Bourke Street windows (with special guest Jane Badler) creating a live exhibition to raise money for sick kids at TLC was also such a special experience. There have been so many it’s so tough to single them out, they all built on each other to inspire me to try and attempt new things. 

What are you currently working on? 

On a book and it’s proving to be an epic emotional and physical challenge. It’s autobiographical stories from my life, I have felt strongly compelled to write this book for many years. In general through the stories it investigates how childhood trauma and abuse have fuelled many addictions in my life and fuelled so many of my misguided reckless pursuits. I am hoping for this to be my 3rd published book, yet regardless it is proving to be a healing journey in many ways. It’s very different from my first two books “frantic bloom” and “Brezania”. 

If you couldn’t do this anymore, what career path do you think you would have followed Anthony? 

I don’t really know where I would have ended up if my art had not taken off. The jobs I did have created a misery in me and I struggled to work for other people in controlled environments, always my imagination transported me to other places and ideas. For many years I was lost in my life knowing only it all felt wrong. I knew how impossible it was to live on an actors wage yet my venture into exploring this as an occupation back in 

my 20’s is what opened up new possibilities in my life. Because these days I am finding my art making physically difficult due to my health I am writing more. I don’t expect it to be a career path on its own accord yet it’s all part of my career to date as a creative. Especially now I need to feel a sense of purpose and have a creative outlet to keep me from giving up on life. 

Tell us a funny story or joke that involves your work or life. 

I started doing singing telegrams and then stripping to support my acting career financially. At one point I was cast in a large outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” I needed to cram in what strip jobs I could when I wasn’t acting so I wouldn’t starve. On the Saturday night’s of the play’s season I’d do the curtain call and then dash backstage where the dresser would be waiting to help me get off my makeup and costume. I would then run to the car past many of the audience members and drive like a bat out of hell to the old Marquee Club in South Melbourne where approx. 250 drunk women would be waiting for the final stripper in their stage show. I’d bolt backstage, the show’s MC would have a small joint waiting to help me reboot. I’d put on my school boys uniform complete with thick nerd glasses, crazy wig and giant teddy bear and out I’d go to face the madness ending up stark naked. It was crazy to go from one form of performance to another within such a short time. Yet I loved the intense stimulation it provided. 

Breslin’s most recent exhibition “Exit the Blood Machine” contained 23+ artworks that portrayed his journey through cancer, transplant and beyond, a multitude of them contained images of bones, cells, death and many of which were created during his treatment, from his hospital bed. Some of these stunning and colourful artworks now hang in the Alfred Hospital. 

Undoubtedly, Anthony Breslin is another of St. Kilda’s most precious icons. He is blessed that creatively has been his amazing life. An artist of great bravery, generosity, sensuality, compassion and uniqueness. And all these qualities are the only few attributes that outweigh his gargantuan artistic ability. 

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