THE ART OF THE OUTSIDER
Craftsman House, 2000; fully illustrated; here with slip case.
About twenty or more years ago, I attended the opening of a swank art gallery in that swish part of Armadale in Melbourne that treats of antiques. The person who was advertised to open the gallery was one of its featured artists, Tim Storrier. When I got to the gallery I passed a room with an open door and four or five people in it. I did not know what Storrier looked like but I felt instinctively it was a well-dressed man a few years younger than me who looked like a well presented squatter – in the old country, a squire of the county. Although apparently content within himself, he did not look all that thrilled to be where he was and doing what was asked of him. Somehow, I got the impression that you might be wiped off like a dirty bum if you put a foot out of line. One might even get the kind of put-down that one might get at ‘School.’ Well, the artist commenced his remarks with words to this effect: ‘Asking an artist to open an art gallery is a little like asking a cow to open an abattoir.’ I laughed out loud in part because this observation was in accord with mine of the speaker. But, I have to say that the owners of the gallery did not appear to share the hilarity. Indeed, they looked a bit queasy. But Storrier went on to make a speech that held my full interest – so much so, that I was sorry I was not in a position to take notes. For the most part, talking about art is about as useful as dancing about architecture. Catherine Lumby, in this sensible and illuminating work, makes it plain that Storrier shares that view. So, his remarks were full of sense and devoid of bullshit.
You might say something similar about the art of Tim Storrier. When I was in the better part of the market – with someone else’s money – an enthusiast at Australian Galleries said that this artist was absorbed in the ‘elemental.’ He was dead right about that – fire, water, pyramids, serpents, and the firmament, as often as not in an outback so barren that it is threatening.
I am lucky to have two pieces by this artist. One is a photo of a burning pyramid in what looks like a desert at about dawn or dusk. It was made in 1981 and is entitled ‘Toward an innuendo of impermanence.’ (That kind of title would have appealed to Shelly in his Ozymandias mode.) Against what I might call stiff competition, that cibachrome, as it is called, attracts a lot of attention. It is commandingly elemental. The second is a lithograph of a minutely executed drawing of a saddle. It is called ‘Saddle, 1987.’ The first cost $450 in 1998 and the second cost $700 in 2007 (both without buyer’s commission). I probably would not get anything like that for either in this market, but that is not the reason I acquired them – or any other art I have bought. What I can say is that if we put one side the art of aboriginals, before I put my hand in my pocket to buy a work of art I like to know that the artist can draw. This saddle leaves that in no doubt at all for this artist. He is not just a natural; he is trained in what I might here call ‘high technique.’
Storrier may approach the market in Australia in much the same way as Barry Kosky approaches putting Wagner on in Germany: ‘The way I look at it, if you’re not virulently criticized by at least fifty per cent of the people, then you’re not doing very much at all.’
Given our wariness of bullshit on this subject, I shall leave it at two citations. In his Foreword, the late Edmund Capon said:
There is a wonderful quality of honesty at work in his paintings, haunted as they are by the space and strange emotional quiet that is evoked in pictures with low horizons and vast skies.
Driving off into the virtual obscurity of the outback, setting up camp with his tables, chairs, sunshade, easel, paints and brushes, Storrier places the smallest of canvasses on the easel and then proceeds to survey all that space before him through a pair of binoculars…..His pictures are beautifully composed and executed: there is nothing brusque, temporary or arbitrary about his work…..Such images, of instinct and memory that sometimes border on the nostalgic, are fraught with the dangers of the cliché, but ultimately, the strength of conviction, the personality of memory and experience, and the subtleties of technique triumph. Storrier is a cautious artist – he has to be in tackling such subjects.
John Olsen said:
First thoughts could have been influences of Drysdale or even Nolan, but this was not so. There was rigour and exactness in his draftsmanship that allowed no vagueness of edge or blurry metaphors…..For Storrier, the Australian landscape is a stage set where all the players have gone home; where ‘camps’ or deliberately planned situations, named surveyors’ camps, are adorned with flat handmade saddles; where tools of craft hang symbolically from them…..Storrier remains privately shy and socially uncomfortable. He is one of the most secretive and enigmatic artists working in Australia today – a man of unpredictable intentions and directions, and one of the most original.
Boyd, Nolan, Smart and Williams have changed the way I see my country. I am not sure that Storrier has done that, although the night sky can cause a tremor, but he has changed the way I look at painting and drawing. And Olsen was surely right when he said that Storrier is an original. Possibly for that reason, the two works of his that I have are the only two that are specifically identified in my will.