May 11 - 17, 2014: Issue 162
For those of us growing up in the 1970’s and early 1980’s Tracks was the magazine you read, either covertly in the newsagency because pocket money was scant, or while discussing its content and even literary merit in high flung prose. One noticed that those who would discuss the merits of the articles, in an abstract sociological way, within a short amount of time, were also reading a comic book whose main character, Captain Goodvibes, a creation who was doing things that these high thinking well speaking ‘fans’ should find beyond them, caused said intellectuals to giggle like girls.
The connection between these prosaic Thinkers and the creator of Captain Goodvibes is not such a huge gap it turns out – Tony Edwards enjoys a good book, a thoughtful film and the music of dead European composers.
Captain Goodvibes spoke the language of many between 1973 and 1981 – a parody of all the excesses of surfing as it morphed into cult status, where the champions of the day were pinned up on the bedroom walls of teenage girls and sighed over, the flying pork chop gave voice to that Australian ‘laugh at pretentious wankers’ notion carried forward from our colonial roots to the present day.
Mr. Edwards, although able to perfectly epitomise all the excesses of then is also a creative Janus –an artist whose ability to speak equally eloquently in the medium of paintings has seen the By The Way exhibition at the Museum Of Sydney which ran throughout July and August 2013 attract critical acclaim and expand his loyal audience.
Of that exhibition;
Travel pulls the rug of familiarity from under your feet; it makes everything fresh, mysterious and more vivid. It is the perfect cure for flagging inspiration. We piece together a feeling for a new place from a myriad discrete and seemingly unrelated elements, be it a particular bend in the road ahead, the stillness inside an ancient church, the sound of a gently flowing stream, the musty smell of a village bookshop, the unexpected kindness of a stranger or the curious sense of familiarity about places you've never been to before. None of these things can be painted, but they do inform art, and if painting is to have some sense of the ineffable, it helps to experience the tiny wonders of everyday life in a foreign land. The United Kingdom and Sicily have little in common, although both are a painter’s dream. The grass is greener on England's hills – the countryside sometimes redolent of chocolate-box art – but the sense of a turbulent past is ever present in Sicily. Perhaps the glowering presence of Etna underlines the fragility of life. Sicily offers dreamlike beauty in its baroque towns, side by side with the dreary plainness of postwar development.
Tony Edwards took thousands of photographs while travelling through the United Kingdom and Sicily, and curiously, those he found exciting at the time now seem prosaic. Conversely, shots he has no recollection of taking have become the basis for many of the finished paintings included in this exhibition.
Retrieved from Live Guide
A few months ago we had a short note from Tony inquiring if we had any old historical photographs of certain places in Pittwater in relation to a project he is working on – did we! – files were quickly despatched by mail to yon’ gentleman…and by the way…are you THAT Tony Edwards of my younger days?...And of the more recent Barrenjoey thoughtlessness and the community's outrage at such a thought supported by your own characteristic thoughtfulness…?
Yes he is!
Herewith … five minutes with a wonderful artist and genuinely lovely man….who is still one of our own:
You were born in Strathfield (1944) - where did you grow up and what was that like?
I spent my first 12 years in Aspendale, a beachside suburb of Melbourne, it was a terrific place to be young, I could watch the steam trains roaring past like fire breathing dragons, and discovered if you laid a six inch nail on the track, the passing locomotive would forge it into a dagger, very useful for fighting the imaginary pirates that abounded in those parts. I explored the seemingly endless wetlands, but mostly sat on the great sweep of bay beach under a tea tree, daydreaming. I discovered early on that I enjoyed my own company and was perfectly content to sit and watch the clouds roll by and the world turn.
My father was in charge of a marvellous film library run by the Victorian government, and in those far off days we watched the best of world cinema in our lounge room, along with half the neighbourhood a couple of nights a week. In 1957 my parents moved to Sydney, Dad was to run the film department of ABC TV when it first went to air, and bought a modest fibro house in Bayview. Bayview was like some forgotten colonial outpost, complete with abandoned farms, a tumble down boat builder’s yard and slipway, the dimly lit post office and general store with the Devonshire tea rooms built out over the water, old work boats washed ashore in the distant past, quietly rotting away. The place seemed to be inhabited entirely by eccentrics, bohemians, drunks, a mad professor, artists, writers, remittance men and all manner of refugees from reality. It was like a dream, out of time with the rest of the world. I didn't want Bayview to ever change nor to ever leave. Time of course has had its way with both of us.
You trained as an architect but ended up as one of our favourite cartoonists during the 1970's and 80's - why the switch?
Architecture was a catch-all faculty for aspiring creative types and degenerates, most of whom had no idea what they wanted to do or be, apart from drinking too much and satisfying their mating urges. Many, like me, dropped out along the way, to pursue some other career. Being a bit slower than most, I staggered on as a draftsman for another 12 years, numbed by the exquisite boredom of the job. It was not entirely a waste of time. I started doodling in the margins to pass the dreary hours and one day took some of these scribbles to show a friend. There was another guest for lunch that day, a rather bookish owl called John Barnes. John was editing a little surfing magazine called Tracks, and he liked my work. I left my day job a couple of months later and took up permanent residence in Financial Siberia.
What are your best memories of that period with Tracks?
The very best thing about Tracks was that the office was in Whale Beach, Sally, my wife, baby Chloe and I moved to Palm Beach from the Cross to be near the workplace. We rented one of the original 1912 bungalows for $ 30 a week and found that we were living in paradise. Paradise, however, was not the ideal place to work, being more suited to the leisurely arts and the sampling of forbidden fruit. For reasons that still puzzle me, Captain Goodvibes became very popular very quickly. This caused friction and jealousies within the office. I was seen as an outsider, I didn't surf, being a red head, was too fair to spend time in the sun, and was a class A dag surrounded by sun tanned Adonis like surf-o-holics, who, by a ridiculous accident created a cartoon strip that for a time outsold the magazine that published it.
with wife Sally while travelling
There seems a similarity between your early works (1973) and those created by Chris O'Doherty (Reg Mombassa) for Mambo beginning a few years later (1976) - have you two had a beer together - or is this just the universal consciousness of the mid 1970's?
Definitely the universal consciousness at work. Chris and I met for the first time in the late nineties, exchanged compliments and never met again. I'm a bit reclusive and have never sought the company of fellow practitioners. I really like his early realist paintings of Australian houses and landscapes, his Mambo graphics and more recent paintings don't do much for me, probably because I've run away from graphics and cartooning in order to be a painter. Chris's brother Peter, also a former Mental 's member- turned - artist is more my cup of tea.
Although known for Captain Goodvibes you are also a painter of some renown - exhibiting at Museum of Sydney ( By The Way - July 2013) - what would you define your genre as?
Apart from being a pleasant way to pass the time, painting occasionally has a power move people, as does some music. Many years ago an American woman bought a large landscape at one of my exhibitions, when I enquired how she knew of my work, she replied that her husband had a small print of mine beside his bed as he lay dying, and stared at it constantly even as he faded away. I was thunderstruck. It was then that I realised If the arts are to have any relevance in our society they must do their job well, delight the eye,( or ear ), smooth the troubled brow and in some way help us come to terms with life's great mysteries. As for genres, I'm definitely a member of the "Old white bloke" school. Stuck somewhere between the 16th century and the mid 19th, My brain pines to be to be more contemporary but my painting arm refuses to acknowledge the modern era.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
In no particular order, Vermeer, Corot, Vuillard, Bonnard Edward Hopper, Clarice Becket, ( Australian ) Braque, Derain, Juan Gris, Matisse, Hammershoi, ( a Danish painter ) and many others. All have a certain power, and it's very personal, to pierce my heart with arts golden arrow. I look at their work and it sends a shiver down my spine.
What is coming up in the future – any exhibitions slated?
The friends of the Historic Houses Trust have offered me a show in their new home, Juniper Hall, in Paddington, next year, and as we are about to move back to the peninsula after a long absence, it will be my homage to Pittwater and Broken Bay. I had hoped to stage it at the Manly regional gallery, but it wasn't to be.
What is your favourite place/s in Pittwater and why?
The whole western shore is a priceless jewel, but I particularly love the Basin and the little beach below West Head, Resolute Beach. Whenever I'm there I feel as if I have mistakenly walked into Heaven. There is an ancient and wonderful spirit about the place.
What is your 'Motto for life' or a favourite phrase you try to live by?
Always keep a dream in your pocket.
Glebe Island Painting: Tony Edwards - 2007.
Copyright Tony Edwards, 2014.