Unsung Heroes

Revealing the Remarkable in Seemingly Ordinary People

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Artist's Statement

Self Portrait - Graham Smith.
Self Portrait - Graham Smith

Spoiler alert!
This Artist's Statement is not going to be an esoteric examination of the philosophical underpinning of my paintings. And I couldn't do that even if I wanted to.
This is simply about an ordinary bloke who has painted for most of his life and feels blessed for being able to do so.

When I started painting in the 1960s I had just been married and had a young family. We moved into a house in North Beach which had wall to wall blank walls, with very little furniture. I bought some paints and canvases and suggested to my wife that she might take up painting to brighten up the place. Well she was obviously busy enough looking after our little daughter and so I had a go at it. To begin with I copied pictures from Readers Digest. Mostly ocean scenes because at the time I was a keen surfer.

Although I had started studying for an Arts degree majoring in Psychology at the University of WA, by 1972 it became clear to me that this was not a career for me. I left my Bachelor of Psychology studies in the fourth year and bought an old church in Toodyay which became my art studio and home for the next 32 years.
With a new wife and a blended family of 4 children we came to love life in the countryside.

Love of the old buildings and landscape in Toodyay led me to speak to the Shire Council about their fragile asset which was in danger of dissapearing. The next day the Toodyay Shire Council offered me the job of setting up the Toodyay Tourist Center. We were successful in applying to the Commission of Enquiry into the National Estate and had Toodyay declared a conservation area.
At the time Toodyay was suffering with the closure of the Extract Factory and there were many empty shopfronts. I placed paintings in the shop windows to generate public interest in protecting the old buildings, including Connors Mill. One of the paintings was a large portrait of a man playing a cello. The caption that went with it said, "We fiddle while Toodyay fades". This campaign worked well and attitudes changed towards keeping the charm of Toodyay alive (rather than modernise and demolish).

In 1978 there was a chance that I would lose my sight because of retinal detachments in both eyes. That resulted in a very clear realisation that the thing I would miss most is not being able to paint any more. Luckily, my treatment was taken over by Professor Constable at the Lions Eye Institute and he was able to repair my eyes. And my resolve to paint as much as possible was firmly embeded.

In 1985 I became fascinated with computers and thought that I might have a career in digital art. Digital photo retouching became a side business for a while.
Writing computer code became another interest and Telstra gave me a Computerphone to develop software for their new product. These programs included an airline booking system, a warehousing system for a perfume manufacturer and a database for cataloging art works. The Computerphone had a very small impact on the market and was eventually withdrawn.

In 1996 I started the first internet service in the Avon Valley. This was in the very early days of the Internet.
The internet had a huge part to play in my development as an artist. Living in the countryside there is none of the sharing and bonding that might happen in Melbourne or Paris. But I discovered online forums such as "Wet Canvas", where it was possible to see other artists' work and to receive criticism of one's own work. Techniques were freely shared, and the interaction was very exciting. The other advantage of this was that it was possible to withdraw whenever some quiet time was needed.

The other major impact on my art was digital cameras. Previouosly, I was always frustrated at not being able to capture an image of what I can see. This is still a frustration for me, but now I can take thousands of photos and select out the few that work for me.
I am in seventh heaven when I can view my images on a computer screen, zoom in and discover a whole new world of possibilities. I am endlessly fascinated with the minutiae that is revealed in the depths of digital images.
This has led to my series of paintings about the Forest Floor, and continues as a major focus for me today.
When paintng portraits, I like to use high resolution reference images and magnify them to clearly see details.

In 2004 I initiated the Bush Babies Portrait Project which featured indigenous people who had been born in the bush. This exhibition traveled the state of Western Australia and had more than 100,000 visitors.

It was during the time of planning the Bush Babies exhibition that I first had the idea that it would be a great thing to honour people from all sections of the community. I had previously painted a number of high profile people and personalities including such people as Malcolm McCusker, Max Trenorden, Jack Charles, Peter Brock and Steve Irwin. I now wanted to paint some Unsung Heroes who were the lifeblood of any community.
That exhibition was shown at ARts Narrogin in July and August of 2020.

I have been in Cuballing now for 7 years (as at 2020), and have won a number of art prizes including the Narrogin Art Prize, the Royal Show, Kalamunda, Beverley and Northam Art Prizes. My paintings are held in collections in Australia, America, France, Israel and England.

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Email: smithy@bluewindfisher.com
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