Despite a life that has been as colourful as the vivid canvasses he paints, on the eve of his 80th birthday artist Bob Marchant has no intention of hanging up his brushes.
Quite the opposite - the milestone has sparked fresh creativity from the dual Sulman Prize winner.
"I wasn't born to slow down," says Marchant, who will next week open a major exhibition, Living The Dream - on his birthday.
Marchant came to full-time painting at the age of 40, but the die was cast much earlier as he grew up as part of a farming family in Dimboola, Victoria.
"My mother used to look at me and say, 'You were bloody born with a pencil in your hand!' because every time she wanted me to chop some wood or wash the dishes I'd say 'I'm just doing a drawing.' "
After art school in Melbourne, Marchant moved to London in the late 1950s and worked as an art director in advertising. One of his first accounts was Mary Quant – the designer became a good friend.
He also grew close to other luminaries, including David Hockney, David Bailey and Brett Whiteley.
"I first met Whiteley in a pub in Portobello Road," he says. "I was there with several other Australians, all artists, and he came in waving a squash racket.
"Whiteley, because he's a cocky little bugger, says, 'OK, we're going down for a game of squash, and I'll beat the shit out of all of you.' "
However, Marchant was a handy player and, despite not having any shoes, beat Whiteley - as well as on subsequent occasions.
"He used to invite me over to the studio, and I never told him I was interested in painting. I just said I work in graphic design. I was learning a lot just by visiting his studio, seeing what he was doing."
After a successful advertising career, Marchant returned to Australia inspired by the paintings of post-impressionist Henri Rousseau and fired by a determination to make truly Australian works.
"I thought, this guy's got imagination and he lets it run wild," he says.
Over the next 40 years, he constantly returned to Australian themes, from cricket to the red desert and shearing sheds, to Australia Day on the beach.
His 1988 Sulman winner was entitled Catching Rabbits and Yabbies at 5 Mile Dam. The previous year he won with The Grand Parade, Sydney Show.
Long settled in the beachside Sydney community of Bundeena with his wife Inger, Marchant's Living the Dream series expresses his deep contentment with life and passion for the natural world.
He reckons he might have 10 years left of painting and already has his next project planned – an extended painting trip to Western Australia.
"You've always got to have a challenge," he says.
Living The Dream, May 15 - June 3, Australian Galleries, Paddington
Nick Galvin SMH 2018
In his latest body of work, the artist continues to be inspired by local flora and fauna. This can be seen in figurative works such as “A walk on the wild side,” which draws upon the role of fantasy and is saturated with color and lush foliage.
Marchant's work has been heavily influenced by his surrounding environment. From the experiences during his formative years in country Victoria, to his current studio in Bundeena in the Royal National Park, his work depicts the people, the communities and the natural world around him. His works are rich with images and scenes of Australian life and are a narration of experiences and memories. While the nature of the work is often referred to as naive, Marchant's works are created with intricacy and intention, with his characters and themes depicted with delight and humor.
BLOUIN ARTINFO May 2018
“Marchant is an artist working in a form and style unlike any of his contemporaries… (he) is the heir to the great traditions of art, of narrative painting and of illustration. He is a storyteller, creating images which are filled with incident and acutely observed detail. They tell of the world in which we live as well as the worlds of memory and imagination”.
Gavin Fry, Director of Newcastle Regional Museum, 1999
“It is the essential Australianness of both his paintings and their subject which is at the heart of their appeal – unpretentious, direct, unambiguous, quirky and ingenious”.
Gavin Fry, Director of Newcastle Regional Museum, 2001
“His painting has captured Australia with a timeless, yet remarkably fresh approach – a blend of colour & vastness of the continent, and the persistent wit of it’s people”.
"Maybe this time round the Sulman Prize is the most interesting; one can't disagree with John Olsen's selection of Bob Marchant's Catching Yabbies and Rabbits at 5 Mile Dam. He won it last year with Grand Parade at The Sydney Show; this time he lined up sheep, scattered rabbiters and demonstrates yabbying with his usual primitive, inventorial detail.
Elwyn Lynn, Art critic for the Weekend Australian.
The harrowing history of aboriginal women in the song The Drover's Boy sent chills down the spine of artist Bob Marchant and inspired a series of 14 paintings. "How does it feel to have influenced another artist with your song?" I asked Ted Egan. "It feels terrific. It's humbling because I feel the story is bigger than any of us. The story in question revolves around the bizarre and harrowing practice, rife at the beginning of the century, of capturing Aboriginal women for sexual exploitation. Beginning in the 1880s with the mass migration of cattle from NSW through Queensland and the Northern Territory to the Kimberley, drover's would often snaffle a native women, put a rope around her neck and drag her along by foot behind the horses. Back in camp they would chain her to a tree until she was "tamed"
Because interracial relationships were outlawed, the women would be dressed as boys and work as stock riders with the drover. Egan's sparse yet explicit lyrics speak of "the massacre in the west /Barest details guess th
e rest/Shoot the bucks, grab a gin/ Cut her hair, break her in/Call her a boy,The Drover's Boy.
Marchant was awarded the maverick Sulman Prize in 1988 by fellow artist Margaret Olley and won it again the next year under the scruteny of John Olsen. He had been painting for only eight years.
Nell Schofield writing for the Sydney Morning Herald
"The Drover's Boy paintings by Bob Marchant are on exhibition at Bathhurst Regional Gallery until October. The Gallery Director, Louise Doyle believes the song and paintings contain an important message for us all. "The story has really touched peoples hearts, particularly those who may have a relationship with this part of history,"she said.
Many of the "boys" stayed with the drovers for the rest of their life. The "boys" did the cooking, looked after the horses and got the drovers started early, the "boys" had a part to play in all parts of the drovers life, she said.
Bob and Ted's aim is for reconciliation, to recognise that it happened and the positives that have come out of it happening. There have been over 1300 visitors to the exhibition since it opened three weeks ago, along with many enquiries from outside the region since the ABC'S arts coverage program Review.
Sheena Frost for The Western Advocate
'No river Murrays' a Bob Marchant autobiography 2016
Craft arts International - Issue 39 (Mar 1997)
'The Drover's Boy series of paintings' 1995 Book by Bob Marchant, Ted Egan & Nerys Evans
Bob Marchant at home in Bundeena with some of the works from his latest series, Living The Dream. Photo:Steven Siewert