Be­nalla artist Tony Flint takes us through his out­back be­gin­nings to his cur­rent work on dis­play at the Be­nalla Art Galler y.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - Tony Flint

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


by Tony Flint.

“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.

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