Tim Stor­rier’s new paint­ings are vis­ual po­ems of loss, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

In the end I sup­pose ev­ery­thing is lost, all gone for­ever. The only thing we leave is the mis­er­able de­tri­tus of our sup­pos­edly ex­alted ex­is­tence.

TTim Stor­rier, Bowral, 2015

he poignancy of an empty chair. A sag­ging old arm­chair that has moulded over time into the shape of the per­son who sat in it. Watched tele­vi­sion, read the news­pa­per, spilled a drink. And now that per­son has de­parted and the chair has been dis­carded along with rem­nants of a life.

In his new se­ries of paint­ings, The Po­etry of De­tri­tus, Tim Stor­rier seems to be look­ing both back­wards and to the fu­ture. There is a sense of nos­tal­gia in the vast empty land­scape in which the chairs are placed, that of his child­hood in an out­back land­scape on a farm, a long­ing for those who have gone and left a void, and a sense of mor­tal­ity for an artist now in his mid-60s.

In an es­say about the paint­ings, he writes of look­ing at the night stars with his fa­ther and re­turn­ing to the fire at Uma­galee homestead, “the warm light was a flick­er­ing glow on Dad’s arm- chair — empty now with­out his pres­ence and yel­low sweater”. Two decades ear­lier, as his mother lay dy­ing he went out­side to es­cape the “fetid aroma” of her bed­room. In the “throw out” area he picked up a dam­aged bent­wood chair. When he re­turned she had gone. He still has both those chairs, re­paired, re-up­hol­stered and redo­lent with mem­o­ries and loss.

But the real key to th­ese paint­ings, he says, is van Gogh’s paint­ings of his and Gau­guin’s chairs. The idea of a chair as a por­trait.

“It is sort of like a metaphor, re­ally. Not an orig­i­nal one. It has been a sym­bol for de­par­ture for aeons. Like aban­doned clothes, or a hat.”

But his once plumped chairs are the en­velop­ing arm­chairs of his child­hood. “Those big fat neo-deco sort of chairs. I grew up with those sorts of chairs. I have made them sort of big­ger I think be­cause of child­hood mem­ory.”

When he first started paint­ing them, says his wife Janet, “I thought, ‘Oh God, we are go­ing to go broke.’ But they have re­ally grown on me.”

Stor­rier’s house looms out of a tum­ble of au­tum­nal trees. With its grace­fully curv­ing Dutch colo­nial fa­cade and many chim­neys it is an im­pres­sive sym­bol of suc­cess. And with its top­i­ary, hedges, gar­dens, its per­fectly pro­por­tioned rooms, high ceil­ings and sash win­dows there is some­thing sooth­ingly solid about this house. It is, says the vi­brantly at­trac­tive Janet, “a mag­i­cal place. Tim fell in love with it.” They moved here from an­other colo­nial prop­erty at Bath­hurst nearly two years ago.

“Watch out for the pheas­ant poo, it is slip­pery,” she says, eye­ing the mossy stairs as we en­ter the house. The of­fend­ing foul wan­der im­pe­ri­ously around a small court­yard out­side the house. There are dogs, in­clud­ing a three-legged whip­pet and a bad-tem­pered el­derly labrador, heav­ily laden book­cases, signs of their blended fam­ily of seven chil­dren; a seem­ingly idyl­lic coun­try life.

The Stor­ri­ers mar­ried in 2004. Di­vorced with three daugh­ters and a son, Janet says her fa­ther told her “no one will ever marry you be­cause of all those chil­dren”.

Her fa­ther com­mit­ted sui­cide when he was di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer. “He was a doc­tor and knew what he was do­ing,” she says, driv­ing me from the train sta­tion in her ute. “And Tim took me and the kids out to lunch. We were all a bit mis­er­able. And he bought an en­gage­ment ring from the lady at the next ta­ble, who he knew.

“We hadn’t talked about mar­riage but when he was say­ing good­bye to my fa­ther he said, ‘Don’t worry, I will look af­ter Janet and the kids.’ So he took on all th­ese kids.”

This is Stor­rier’s third mar­riage. His first, to the then Vogue art direc­tor Sharon White, ended in di­vorce; his sec­ond wife, Jane, who bat­tled al­co­holism, died af­ter they had sep­a­rated. He has three sons from th­ese mar­riages. Janet, says art dealer Philip Ba­con, “is a won­der­ful thing that has hap­pened to him. She is an amaz­ing as­set.”

When Janet’s fa­ther rang Stor­rier for the last time, he was in Perth with John Olsen.

“‘Farewell’ was all I could come up with,” he says now.

It is a con­stant theme, farewell. In the In Ab­sen­tia se­ries in 2010, emo­tively float­ing clothes were what re­mained of those now gone.

Stor­rier’s stu­dio near the house was once the sta­bles. It is here in th­ese light filled rooms that he lis­tens to “trash talkback ra­dio” as he works. “Good mu­sic is dis­tract­ing — well, you would have to stop and lis­ten.”

It is here that he ex­plores “the sweet po­etry be­tween a warm blue and a cold grey. Those are the spe­cial lit­tle things that a painter takes great de­light in, they are an­cient plea­sures.” On the wall are pas­sages from Ham­let and TS Eliot’s The Hol­low Men.

“They sort of ba­si­cally en­cap­su­late what I am do­ing,” he ex­plains. “I spend a lot of time read­ing and try­ing to de­ci­pher po­etry. They [the paint­ings] are built like a poet builds a poem, in a sense. With an artist it is the same process to a de­gree, but rather than tempo you are talk­ing about scale, you are talk­ing about tone, you are talk­ing about colour.

“Th­ese things are more about prayers or hymns than about mak­ing a state­ment. Try­ing to breathe the in­for­ma­tion with af­fec­tion. It is not about a lament at all. I don’t think it is maudlin.

“We have all seen chair ly­ing be­side the road, we have all seen head­lights on the hori­zon.”

For an artist who is known as a mav­er­ick, Stor­rier is in­tensely shy; he is a deep thinker, deco­rous and pro­foundly sen­si­tive. Th­ese qual­i­ties have led to mis­con­cep­tions about him be­ing ret­i­cent and tac­i­turn. “He hides a lot of that shy­ness in that ma­cho bravado swag­ger,” Ba­con says.

He is a mav­er­ick in the sense that he con­tin­ued his own course of re­al­ism at the height of post­mod­ernism. His work has re­mained res­o­lutely beau­ti­ful.

“I can’t es­cape that ... I am ba­si­cally try­ing to em­u­late the great masters in paint­ing beauty, and of course you can con­vey enor­mously brutish and nasty ideas with beauty much more ef­fec­tively than you can with do­ing it in an ugly fash­ion,” Stor­rier says.

He ad­mits that he could be “in­dicted for be­ing al­most in­tensely sen­ti­men­tal but I have never re­ally fol­lowed the modernist dic­tum that sen­ti­men­tal­ity was ver­boten at all”.

“Tim is con­sid­ered not just a mav­er­ick but an out­sider by the art estab­lish­ment,” Ba­con says. “And it has come at a cost.

“He has won the Archibald Prize and all the big prizes but it is al­most as if it is grudg­ing and the art world can never for­give an artist who

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