Menzies Art Brands



It is just on 50 years since Tim Storrier burst onto the Australian art scene with his win in the Sulman Prize at the age of nineteen. It was an extraordinary achievement for a young artist barely out of art school. The winning work, Suzy 350, depicted two figures in flight, thrown from a crashing motorcycle. While the colour, elegant drawing and incongruous name [referencing the brand of the motorcycle] seemed benign, the violence of the subject marked it as the work of a young artist out to make an impression. That aspect of Storriers work soon gave way to a mature style in which his beautiful draughtsmanship and sure touch with brush and pencil were applied to scenes of calm and contemplation. 

Storrier grew up on a grazing property near Wellington in the Central West of New South Wales, a place of big skies and wide horizons. He made that landscape the core of his work, along with the material paraphernalia, the impedimenta, that accompanied a life on the land. But in working with that landscape he did not echo the work of previous generations of artists, exemplified by George Lambert (1873-1930), who had shown in detail the people and the animals they worked. Rather, he took a pared back view and developed a range of symbols that might stand for the emptiness, and openness, of the land. Simple devices; a pile of smouldering logs, a burning rope suspended between two poles, came to symbolise mans interaction with the place. The flames die and the rope goes out, leaving the land changed but just as empty as when man arrived. At ever increasing scale, these works struck a chord with Australians yearning for an image of the mythic outback, a place beyond the coastal fringe along which they all were clustered. 

Storriers wide horizontal canvases were contrasted to a series of smaller works in which he lovingly detailed the minutiae of the tools the grazier needed to survive and prosper on the land. The saddle became the key motif, worked and reworked in many forms in every medium. It was always the working saddle, the crucial interface between man and the horse that carried him across his vast acreage, as he trailled behind the sheep and brought his weary body home at the end of the day. The saddle in itself is a beautifully crafted object, requiring comfort both for the rider and the horse on which it is mounted. Flaps and straps, buckles, padding and girth, it is a complex piece of work for a seemingly simple purpose. The appeal of Storriers work was in the fact that the quality of the crafting in the saddle was matched by the perfection of the artists hand. He laid out each drawing with lines and charts, notations and marks, the mental jottings of the explorer and the grazier keenly observing the new world beyond the divide. 

For more than four decades Storrier has delighted his large and growing audience, ringing the changes on a series of motifs on the land, in the vast star filled sky and, on a few occasions, on storm tossed seas. He never returned to the figures of his youth, content to depict humanity in its absence rather than in visible form. Storrier makes an interesting contrast to the Melbourne painter Graeme Drendel (born 1953), who grew up in strikingly similar circumstances in the Victorian Mallee. As young boys, both had spent many solitary hours in the bush, inventing games and playing out their own imagined conquests in the dry creek beds and on the dusty plains. But unlike Storrier, Drendel has peopled his desolate landscape with a vast tribe of imaginary characters who play out their lives in obscure, choreographed rituals. Storrier was content to depict the landscape as the
place abandoned by the man who lit the rope or stoked the now-dying coals.

Feeling that the city had no more to offer, Storrier moved back to the bush, settling on a rural property out of Bathurst. In that place the artist found the first stirrings of a return to the figure, but chose not to express that in a straightforward way. The idea for his new figurative work came not from any obvious source, from a life drawing session or perhaps a portrait commission, but from an encounter with a figure of his own devising, a scarecrow in the vegetable garden he traversed each day on his path to the studio. The scarecrow has the form of a man, the clothes filled out with straw to provide sufficient likeness that wary birds will not venture down. The more clothes there are, the more convincing the device and, hopefully, the more effective the deterrent. 

The first iteration of the scarecrow-man was a painting depicting the artist, striding out in search of new subjects and inspiration. He is burdened down with all that he might need along the way, from his explorers pith helmet, to every form of tool and gadget, topped off by his faithful fox terrier, Smudge. Like every farm boy, Storrier had relied on his faithful companion since his days on the farm and the daily chore of looking to the dogs. The more he piled on the hapless painter, the less need there seemed to be for a face behind the big round glasses. The figure was loosely based on The Wayfarer by Hieronymus Bosch, a work redolent with symbolism that has been interpreted in a number of ways, with the essential theme being the choice between good and evil, between the easy road and the path less travelled. There were also models closer to home in the nineteenth century explorers who opened up the very country on which the artist was born. The gentleman explorer, who ventured westward burdened down with every accoutrement available, only to discard them all as he struggled against a country that needed no camp stretchers, gentlemans toilet case or patent fly catcher. As had happened in 1968, Storrier again swept back into prominence when the faceless Histrionic Wayfarer was awarded the Archibald Prize in 2012. Some muttered darkly about a portrait with no face, but there was no denying the presence of a work that was carried by Storriers sure draughtsmanship, beautiful colour and wry sense of humour. Bouyed by the success of the painting, Storrier took the bold step of reinterpreting the work as a sculpture in bronze. He had made a small number of three-dimensional works many decades earlier, but this was by far the most ambitious sculpture he had undertaken. The paraphenalia of the artist and even the dog on his back were all rendered slightly larger than life size in a finely finished work that was cast in an edition of five.

Two years later Tim Storrier undertook a second work that further explored the idea of the Wayfarer, but in a more refined and elegant form. Instead of the artist burdened by his impossibly large backpack, his successor strides out with a lighter and more considered load. A broad-brimmed hat has replaced the explorers pith helmet and, as with Storriers own signature outfit, he wears moleskins instead of leather gaiters. In preparation for the sculpture the artist produced a series of paintings, one each from front, back and in profile. These worked as a guide for the craftsmen who would realise the final work, based on Storriers maquette, as well as being individual works in their own right. The Grand Impedimenta is intensely personal, yet universal as another iteration of the artists metaphysical self. Having excelled in painting and all the graphic media, Storrier was showing as a mature artist he is master of all the elements of the artists profession.

Gavin Fry

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