Patonga is a Sleepy village built on a sand bar, a couple of hours north of Sydney. (they’ll tell you less, but allowing for getting lost, two hours is realistic)
I don’t know that it is actually built on a sound bar, but it looked that way to me when cousin Johnty and I crossed the little river on Patonga’s southern side and, climbing up into the bush, looked back over the town.
Here’s Jonty rowing us across to creek as they call it.
Back in town, now, and and just off the main street…..
a sign to a gallery, past the petrol pump…
(That’s an antique, by the way. You wont get an petrol out of that thing, even if you offer $2 a litre. )
….is the Bakehouse Gallery .
It’s interesting the way people hesitate at the door of a gallery, not sure whether to go in.
Cousin Jonty’s already inside, intrigued, by the look.
and some other visiting peer-ers are in there too.
In part, I suspect, this hesitation to enter is because people think they might be asked to buy something.
In this case, there’s no danger of that because nothing’s for sale.
Well, nothing has a visible price on it. Selling is not the point at the Bakehouse Gallery.
There are other things out of the ordinary as well. No part of the Bakehouse is off limits to the visitor who does come in.
The studio upstairs? Just climb the stairs…
and find art on a chair just as viewable as art on a wall
There’s always time to talk too, or to ask a question…
Across the road is another part where smoothly sliding stacks, put many more works at your fingertips.
Bottom line, say the owners, you aim to get people in front of pictures no matter what, and then they decide if it was worth the visit or not.
Want to see something else? Sure, just a second….
But, I’m not doing this right.
Let me introduce the people behind this fresh new concept, Jocelyn Maughan and Robin Norling who own and run the Bakehouse gallery.
As you know this is a Rubbo family art blog. There is no direct connection with my family here, though both Jocelyn and Robin Knew of Antonio dattilo-Rubbo’s famous art school in Sydney.
The connection comes because I love their way of thinking, and share ideas what art’s about
Both Robin and Jocelyn have been classically trained, both have been teachers. Both are still teachers
Both believe in art based on good drawing, and that, says Robin, comes right out of the Rennaissance.
“Dio Segno.” says Robin, The sign of God. Though not religious, Robin contends that’s what must be there.
There, in the seemingly simplest thing you do.
They talk about helping to build a road map for young artists.
They see contemporary art as being in a bit of a mess, it’s values confused by political and fashion agendas, and by the pressure to create what critic, Robert Hughes called, The shock of the New.
Speaking of shocks, did you get an email petition to sign the other day?
It was part of a shocked global response to a Costa Rican “artist” who’s entry to his country’s Biennale was an installation piece, a stray dog actually starving to death in an “art” gallery.
We are far from such obscenity here, I hope.
Yet I wonder if the classical approach of Robyn and Jocelyn might, make them seem somewhat freakish to our Sydney art world.
Perhaps. …But then, they are so far off the beaten track that it doesn’t matter.
In fact, when people come into the Bakehouse gallery, a strange thing happens.
Generally, their eyes tell them the art is good, but their brains then ask, “What’s good work doing in Patonga, and without a price on it, moreover?
Something’s wrong, somehow.
Since there is no answer to this puzzle of price-less art, some choose not to believe their eyes.
Some, used to following the critics, conclude the Bakehouse works are probably not that special after all.
How could they be? Out of sight in Patonga, out of the swim in bucolic Patonga?
Jocelyn and Robin don’t care. There’s always more to do.
Here, Jocelyn is explaining to me that this black and white work, Aussie Lean-to, (a local fisherman) is done with what she calls the Grisaille technique.
White paper is specially treated to create a smooth surface, then covered in dark oil paint which can be rubbed away.
The design is done by rubbing alone.
Here’s a tree, an Angophera, she’s rendered in the same way
There’s a beautiful scratchy feel to these images, I find
Jocelyn paints people in Patonga, often the fishermen. Her themes, her visual obsessions, one might say, are men at work, often around boats.
As you look at these small works, you find yourself having more and more trouble saying,” These are nothing special.”
Yet, if they were really any good, they’d have a hefty price on them, surely?
I discover that her men have a signature way of slouching. I can’t imagine Jocelyn drawing a tensed up sportsman .
She likes her men to fall into their postures, gravity doing what it does
She loves the tired, after work, look.
Robin likes the figure too. But what he does with the human body is so different.
Also, he’s more apt to picture women, more apt to be sensuous
Here’s Jocelyn again. Her men lounge around, shooting the breeze of course
If Robin does men, they are a different race. Not tired, not slouched, anything but…
Both artists paint portraits. But Jocelyn’s the prolific one.
if someone walks into the studio with a head which catches her fancy, she’ll offer a likeness on the spot, to be knocked off in an hour or less, then and there!
This is Mick Chapman from across the creek. He used to be a top class photo engraver. Now, he’s a fisherman. Mick picked up his portrait yesterday.
Joceyln does these quick oil sketches “to keep her hand in” she explains, and charges nothing for them, if they’re Patongans, as the happy sitters take them home.
She did one of me on that basis, though I’m not a local.
It was mine to keep. All that was asked was that I give it back, temporarily, to be entered in a local art show. Once it’d won first prize, it was back with me.
Curious, I ask her, “how much would it have been if I’d commissioned it?”
“$3000. ” she says “How can that be?” I ask.
“It’s either $3000 or free,” replies Jocelyn, “Nothing in between.”
Actually, that’s not quite true. Once a year, they raise money for the Bushfire Brigade. On that day, the sign outside the Bakehouse gallery reads. Portraits, $5
“Why so cheap?” I ask. “Well, five bucks is something you’ll plunk down without thinking.” explains Jocelyn.
“A kid with a ferrett will spend five dollars. Put it up to ten, and there’d be that hesitation….. No, five’s better.
There’s a down side to cheap. Everyone’s your boss. One kid came back with his pencil portrait, indignant; “Mum says you should take the dirt off my face, ” he said. “Tell your Mum, that’s shading to make your face look round, not dirt.”
I wonder if Jocelyn has ever painted Robin? That’s a fine head, surely?
Yes she has. I’m directed to her book to see how he turned out. Robin’s in there. That, you can buy apparently, $50!
Money and art, what a funny business it is!
Jocelyn and Robin have their teacher pensions and so can afford to keep the high road by living modestly. A young artist could not, of course, and most wouldn’t want to anyway.
Moreover money plays its part in this charming set up. The main gallery, the second gallery across the road, for any one who’d like to emulate this charming set-up, are worth millions now.
Look at this view out their “back” door.
“Commanding a high price.” How the very language reflects the power game into which art gets dragged.
“His picture fetched a record sum at auction.” “Fetch,” what a charming word that is, bringing such a playful tone to the matter, as if we were playing ball games with the dog.
Yet, hitting the higher price ranges, can become a ball game of another sort, a ball and chain, as many artists become slaves to what sells.
Their freedom to be spontaneous, to be whimsical, both in what images they choose to make, and how they part with them, is much reduced.
You could argue that so few artist are financially successful, that it’s not worth talking about any Faustian bargains they may one day strike with reality.
Bottom line, most successful artists could not do what Jocelyn and Robin do, giving away portraits, not without annoying their agent.
9 months ago, Jocelyn painted my friend, Olive Riley, again without charge.
Olive was a rare catch, a head one does not meet very often. Here, we deliver Olive for the session.
Olive is 108 (born 1899) and proves a tranquil sitter.
Robin doesn’t hesitate to give over the shoulder advice. They both do that for each other.
I did not see Robin doing portaits but found some heads of his, patterned and repeated, as he likes to do
Patterns, repetitions with subtle changes, are his forte.
I expected the Bakehouse Gallery would validate a pet theory of mine.
if you’ve read the first post of this blog, you’ll know that I believe that story is a big part of art, or can be.
By story, I mean any narrative to do with the art work.
How, when, and where was the work done?
Who was, or is, the artist?
Who carried the picture though fire and war.
Who stole it and why?
What does it tell us about Grandma, the artist?
How was the picture was brought into the family, or left it, if that is the case.
As a species, we crave stories.
It’s something to do with the cave life of our ancestors, to do with the thousands of years we spent huddled round the cave fire, living through those fearful neolithic nights, our eyes round as moons, as our brave hunters told their tales.
I think that it is through story that people, who otherwise don’t enjoy art, and certainly see the point of owning it, can be drawn to its power and charm.
I thus expected that both Robin and Jocelyn would be story tellers.
But no, their message is purer and less seductive than that. They speak to visitors about design, composition, about finding the patterns in nature and doing things with those patterns. Making one’s variations on the universals, as I understand it.
They talkabout technique and tradition, and never about stories per se. And yet….
Here, Robin is standing in front of the bread oven which give the Bakehouse it’s name.
He ‘s explaining to Jonty that his own art draws inspiration from the repetitive patterns in the Persian carpet at his feet
There’s such a carpet upstairs too, I notice. More reminders for Robin of classical patterning I guess.
Jocelyn’s work seems more amenable to story.
Indeed, she does tell me tales about her work, about sketching on trains in India, for example, the funny things that happened to them on that trip..
These are her local train sketches, but they’ll do to tell the tale.
The Indian story goes like this.
They were in a crowded third class carriage, bundled in by accident it seems, and began to sketch fellow passengers, even though they were a bit fearful it might offend.
Groundless fears, for there was general delight and indeed, as the train rattled across India, more and more passengers were dragged in from other carriages to be sketched.
Luckily, the pair knew from experience to have loose sheets of paper with them. People always want to keep a sketch and it was either have sheets on hand to give away, or tear pages out of their sketch books.
On this occasion, there were so many wanting to keep a souvenir, that they had to tear their loose sheets smaller and smaller, so as not to run out.
Strangely, no matter how small the sketch, each recipient would then fold it in four as if this was the done thing with the drawings of foreigners on trains.
Jocely laughs as she tells the tale , and wonders if there are people wandering round India even today with tiny portraits folded in their shirt pockets.
This is a perfect example of what I mean. If you had a train sketch of Jocelyn’s on your wall, would you not enjoy in telling that story to a visitor?
Telling such a story is empowering. It changes ownership from a checkbook event into something more creative.
True, the train sketch does not become a better image when the story is added , but it does become an enriched image.
Then Jocelyn told me another story, this one linking them to the new Hotel, seen here.
The two brothers, Robert and David who own the Patonga store, have now turned it into a charming and rather up-market hotel.
Back when it was still a humble general store cum fish and chip shop, Jocelyn had asked the brothers if they’d like one of the Bakehouse pictures for their walls.
They said, “No thanks, we have some prints of the South of France which will do just fine”
The South of France for Patonga?
Anyway , the new hotel/restaurant got built and the Osborne brothers remembered the offer and decided that indeed, a local painting would be just the ticket.
But when Jocelyn saw the space, she said a lone picture will be lost. “You need a strip of panels.” she told them. “I’ll do figures and Robin will do landscape panels in between.”
The brothers were still not sure, but Bakehouse did them some mock ups on a demountable panels, and they were happy.
Now, a long wall in the dining room glows with fishermen at work
It would be nice in my view, if those who sit below, knew this intriguing story of how these artists serve their community….
….just as a fisherman does, in his way.
We were due for a walk, Jonty and I, and so we said goodbye to the Bakehouse gallery.
Wandering round the rocks on the point, I kept on thinking about this puzzle which is art.
I saw patterns in the rock, patterns as exciting as any painting.
Not art, though, no human had fashioned these designs, though design there was
But in photographing them, did I author them somehow as art, as my art?
Surely not! Too much of them and too little of me.
But what if I select parts of the image, suggest interpretations by my selection, what then?
This detail of the wall above, I’ve inverted it for example, the more to see it as a finger shape
Here, I turn the rock on it’s side to see a mouth and later, a nose, also turned
You don’t have to see the image below as a cello. But I’ve selected the shape to empower it.
Then, of course, when I find V’s, I’m thrilled, as all men are.
Again, I turn what I find to make the V I want.
Now, I see a dying lion, no longer the alpha male.
What’s karen doing here? Good question. She’s on the back of a dinghy under a white house you’ll soon see, and I like her.
At the far end of Patonga are some fishermen’s cottages, beautiful in their simplicity.
Wealth has now made them impossible, either to build or, in many cases, to keep
This is where karen lives
We walk up and out of Patonga on the famous trail to Pearl beach
When we came to Patonga with Olive, I offered a tribute to the pretty place on her blog http://www.allaboutolive.com.au
I finished with an image which everyone loved, and will do so again.