CHANGING LANDSCAPES - TONY FLINT
Benalla artist Tony Flint takes us through his outback beginnings to his current work on display at the Benalla Art Galler y.
Life experiences growing up around
Woomera, and mining for opals and
uranium, has truly enriched the work of BENALLA ARTIST
IN a garage-sized studio behind the Benalla home he shares with his partner Sue, artist Tony Flint is explaining the intricacies of the smelting process.
Surrounded on three sides by large scale paintings which feel like they’re pulsing with colour out of the darkness, he talks of blast furnaces, molten metal, burners hitting copper and the “unbelievable colours” produced; including blues, greens, opalescent whites and fiery reds.
That he recalls with such clarity something he experienced 30- odd years ago is a little easier to understand when you learn he often carried a camera with him while working the weekend shift.
“I would wander around taking pictures when we weren’t doing much and there weren’t many people around, and you’d hear someone on a megaphone saying ‘put that camera away’ - but I’d just ignore it,” he said.
Photos are everywhere in Tony’s studio, and they are the starting point for his paintings. But pinned to a board on the wall are ordinary, amateur kind of snaps people used to take in the days of the cheap instamatic camera; of family, friends, fun times and pet dogs. They’re not about thoughtful composition or lighting, but about capturing a moment in an everyday person’s life.
Tony was born in South Australia in the town of Renmark; the family following his federal policeman father to postings in Salisbury and then to the barren ranges of Woomera at the time of the Blue Streak satellite launching project.
He remembers his father travelling from Woomera with mates on the weekend to go opal mining, bundling the family into the car and trekking to Andamooka, and from his early teens he learnt how to cut and polish rough opals into gemstones.
The family eventually bought a small shack and machinery for the outback enterprise and relied entirely on rain or dam water, and he remembers it as being frontier-like.
“You were wholly and solely reliant on the environment around you – you couldn’t turn on a tap or switch on a light – you had to create it,” he said.
In later years Tony worked on and off in the mining industry, in a copper uranium mine in Roxby Downs and the opal fields of Andamooka. He says the experience taught him a lot about what goes on in the industry and its impact on the earth.
“You also learn a lot about geology,” he said. “I think geology is a major tool of landscape painting, because when I look at a landscape I look at the millions of years of history, and the way it has changed so much.
“I spent a lot of the time in the desert walking around Woomera and those areas where it’s all stony desert and you come across packs of stones covered with fossilized leaves that have been here for millions of years.
“I always remember my granddaughter asking ‘how do you paint water?’ and I‘d say you don’t paint water, you paint the landscape that’s underneath it, except it’s a little bit different so you fuzz it around a bit in a sort of an optical effect.”
In the late sixties and before he discovered art, Tony moved to Naracoorte, continuing to travel backwards and forwards to Andamooka. >>
“I think geology is a major tool of landscape painting, because when I look
at a landscape I look at the millions of years of history, and the way it has changed so much.”
At the age of 25 and married with a couple of kids, he got a job at the local post office to escape the drudgery of working long hours in factories.
He became a passionate and successful fly fisherman; taught the specialised and then largely unknown sport by an old timer in town. It kept him busy during the summer, but during the winter when the streams got muddy, he needed to find something else to do.
Good at art during his school days, Tony ventured into the art gallery next door to his home.
“I used to go there and have a look at the exhibitions and thought (pretty naively) I could do that,” he said. “I just started painting, thinking it would be a good way to earn money.”
He bought books on painting, brushes and started from scratch, taking only the odd, ad-hoc lesson at the encouragement of an artist in town, and heading out to paint the local landscape.
He was happy with what he produced at the time, although they were based on styles which had gone before, like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts.
“Then I got involved in looking at more contemporary artists like Fred Williams and John Olsen and got interested in that sort of style,” he said.
As his portfolio of work and reputation grew, Tony connected with other artists including Asher Bilu, who encouraged him to show in Melbourne, and Ivan Durrant who was to introduce him to his future home of Benalla.
Today when Tony paints a landscape he says he is merely capturing a moment in its life, the hills having taken their own shape and form from the effects of weather over millions of years. And he continues to drift between the real and the abstract.
“My later work stems from my experience in the mining industry and also a bit to do with how climate has changed over the years, and whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, how it’s becoming pretty unstable,” he said.
“The work might be really bright and pretty, but there is something there that’s dark – it’s a very unforgiving landscape.”
He says Australia is a country that has always had a fragile weather system and landscape, and it’s a situation that in both environmental management and agricultural terms, we can’t afford to ignore.
In recent work he has mixed the landscape with elements of the smelting process, reflecting on the dangerous, moneymaking “monster” of an industry and whether it’s feasible for us to “keep on digging stuff out of the ground and smelting it down”.
The impact man has made on the earth was brought home in a particularly confronting way when he made a return visit to Naracoorte after a 20 year absence. A spring fed stream he used to love to fish, walking the entire length and once catching an eight and a half pound trout in one of its pools, had turned to sand. A massive drainage system installed to reclaim the land had let the water run out to sea, starving the aquifer beneath, and the few pools remaining were being pumped dry to water canola crops, leaving the stream virtually destroyed.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that he’s contemplating a new series inspired by horror, the artist sharing his long time love of the genre with his granddaughter.
“They’ll be just like those old sort of dark, baroque paintings but almost abstract, so they look nice but have this underlying tension,” he said. “But I’ll never tire of doing landscapes - I love them. I see many different places at different times of the day and think; I’d love to do a series on that.”
The work of Tony Flint is held in collections around Australia including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia.
His work is also on permanent display at the Benalla Art Gallery, located within the botanical gardens in Bridge Street, Benalla.
Open daily (except Tuesdays) from 10am until 5pm, the gallery’s art collection spans three centuries of Australian art, from the early 19th century to the present day, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, decorative arts and furniture reflecting European trends of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It also holds a notable range of traditional and contemporary Indigenous artworks and a collection of modern and contemporary artworks from the 20th and 21st centuries tracing the development of modern and contemporary Australian art from the Melbourne and Sydney moderns, the Heide circle, abstraction and figurative Australian art though to postmodernism and the present day.
“The work might be really bright and pretty, but there
is something there that’s dark – it’s a very unforgiving
“ANDAMOOKA ( Floating in a tin can) Acrylic on board 2009”
REFLECTION \ Tony Flint says his later work is influenced by his experience in the mining industry and how the climate has changed over the years.
TONY’S WORKS OF ART \ Top: RIVER SCENE IN RED AND YELLOW acrylic on canvas 2008. Right, from top: METALLICA acrylic on canvas 2014, LAKESIDE acrylic on 3ply panel 2014, and below SALVADORE acrylic on 3 ply panel 2011.