image. They ignored the publicity machine and avoided the trap that ageing artists are frequently snared in: the impulse to burnish their own mythology with carefully pruned anecdotes that can leave an artist, as critic Adam Gopnik once put it, ‘‘ stranded on an island of his own pet phrases’’. Jeffrey Smart (also interviewed here) springs to mind.
William Robinson, Nora Heysen, Donald Friend, Rosalie Gascoigne, Charles Blackman, Whiteley, Garry Shead, Tim Storrierand Arthur Boyd are documented in Artists in Flinders and his colleagues to describe indigenous peoples, it is somewhat jarring to find this word employed by the author in a few of his own descriptive paragraphs. The removal of ‘‘ native’’ from direct quotations Conversation, alongside two examples of a younger generation, Ben Quilty and Adam Cullen. While Cullen’s recent death focused the spotlight on his remarkable work and his particular talent for an uncompromising life, Quilty’s ascent was heightened by a recent Archibald Portrait Prize win — of his friend and mentor Olley.
Robinson was an unlikely art star. He began painting intimate interiors in the manner of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, moved on to witty paintings of barnyard animals and made his mark unequivocally with his wonderful rainforest triptychs. Imagine that you are a fly in a glass flask swinging away at the hip of determined entomologist. Every time the flask does another bounce or twist or twirl, the world rushes up to meet you. This is what happens when you look at Robinson’s rainforests.
Apart from the opening chapter on Francoise Gilot (the only woman in a relationship with Picasso to escape from the minotaur’s labyrinth, who Hawley interviewed last year), all the artists in this book are Australian. And they are, without exception, prominent. In her introduction Hawley recalls reading a paperback called Life with Picasso, which Gilot had written. It seems to have provided something of a template for unravelling the mysterious elements that underpin any artist’s offerings: the indecision, the doubt, the ruthless focus and the euphoria.
Hawley’s finely tuned interviewing skills capture every nuance, aside and reflection in her conversations with these artists and this reviewer, for one, has never begun one of her essays without finishing it. One would welcome a second volume where she draws out younger, talented and less known artists.
Olsen has the last word, as he is the doyen of happy endings, with his gentle philosophies on living, working and loving. Hawley drew him out on the Third Act of Life: ‘‘ Not knowing how long you’ve got, how long your body and mind will hold up, or what really happens at the end.’’ would distort the past, but the use of this anachronism elsewhere in the text makes the book appear a little old-fashioned.
Mundle insists he has ‘‘ written this factual story not as an historian, but as a storyteller with a passion for sailing and the sea’’. However, because the book relies on the premise that it is telling a ‘‘ true’’ historical yarn to justify its existence, it is disappointing that the author or publisher has decided that detailed acknowledgment of sources is unnecessary.
Furthermore, it is a general courtesy to acknowledge secondary sources where they have been used in the text. To his credit, the author does include ‘‘ a note on sources’’, but it is no substitution for a good, efficient referencing system.
Flinders: The Man Who Mapped Australia is partly a biography of Flinders but it is also a general account of an age of European sea discovery with which many readers may be unfamiliar. While there are flaws in the book’s structure and narrative, Mundle’s enthusiasm for his topic is often infectious. Readers with a love of maritime history doubtless will be intrigued by these tales of the sea.