Sunday, September 20, 2009


Should you come up to the Shop today you'll be in for a big surprise... and for certain because : charcoals by Raffaella Torresan on the high windows at the far end of the room, portraits of seven Melbourne worthies, drawn at different times in the Nineties, four of whom, sad to say, have died. The upper 4 & lower 3 sequence I've arranged in the window frames features Adrian Rawlins, Shelton Lea, Geoffrey Eggleston & Myron Lysenko, followed by Ted Lord, Colin Talbot & Patrick McCauley. Legends is a better description. Incidentally, I wonder who has drawn the women poets over the years --which isnt to join the "it's all blokes" chorus, since one's a poet ahead or despite of gender (& 'because of' would surely now apply equally)... And, another thought, is it usually women making portraits of men?

The first portrait we acquired was Nancy Buller's water-colour of Peter Bakowksi, mid-'90s. He'd sat for a St Kilda elderly women's art group I seem to recall. A chance purchase --there it was one Sunday, in a church hall or a temporary gallery at the Bowling Club --perhaps it was a St Kilda arts festival. Retta thinks she, Catherine & myself all saw it together. I bought it & someone from their group delivered it to the Shop... Next in the collection was Ashley Higgs' silk-screen of Pi O, which I saw at a Council of Adult Education exhibition in Flinders Street --more a glimpse than a study but the profile's unmistakable in its white on yellow cartoon. Its success depends upon the speed of one's look! Then, Javant Biarujia's hand-coloured photo-montage, Frank Hardy (Brushing Up On A Fallen Hero In An Era of Abstraction And Angst), featuring the laureate of Carringbush & his glowering dog in gentling yellow & sepia. It might be a surprise to many that once upon a time --this work is from 1982, acquired a couple of years ago --Javant was as serious about art-photography as writing. About the same time I bought Grant MacCracken's fiercely funny oil of the busking poet (himself as Sham Cabaret, all black shades & leathers) outside of Paul Elliott's Polyester Books & Music in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. It was in the window of the Smith Street, Collingwood picture-framers during an exhibition of his signature moonlit grey & white narratives a few years ago. Next, two pen & inks, drawn from photographs I believe, Judy Johnson by Erin Hunting, & John Tranter by Tim Bruce, both from a 2007 Victorian Writers' Centre exhibition of prize-winning authors, curated by Pam Davison. I'm constantly amused when people mistake the Tranter portrait for me! Of course it's not me, I exclaim --it's obviously Tranter! But I do confess the jolly, full cheeks' expression, could be me in a certain frame of mind (probably full of wine)!

There's a suggestion of the curled lip & raised eyebrow in Raffaella's Adrian Rawlins (1990), a touch of Frank Thring or as David Pepperell called him, Dr Nosh --perhaps thinking of the cheese-platter reward after the artist has finished! Shelton Lea (1998) combines street-wise & imperious but vulnerable too. A difficult face to capture because so well known. Geoffrey Eggleston (1994) she entitles 'Geo Egg' ("Come on the Egg!" one of his old mates yelled across the slope at Montsalvat as son, Nathaniel, buried the casket of ashes, reminding me that was the nickname we'd learned from Mike Dugan in the '60s). Flamboyant in cravat, he also wears that wonderfully stoned expression one recalls over the decades, beady-eyed, mirthful yet serene. Myron Lysenko (1995) is boyish, & there's a kind of blur as though the spectacles are necessary to clarify things. Ted Lord (1998), 'Teddy', seems to float out of a long history; he swims in mortal tenderness. Colin Talbot (1995) has a youthful, handsome athlete's face with a hint of smile he's stringing out like a kite. Patrick McCauley (1998), rugged, windblown, the patina left by a harder life, shared in the visages of Shelton & Ted.

Raffaella Torresan literally sees the best in her sitters, the best & not the beast. Her charcoal portraits are affectionate. The affection attracts & communicates life as well as likeness. It's a truism that drawings are more like living things than any photograph can be, and I swear another species of life is enacted here.

--Kris Hemensley
fin, 20th September,'09--

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