Waiting for a bite – Queenscliff

As i live through my 80th year my expectation of a long and healthy life reduces somewhat but my desire for the same does not. This is a conundrum that I find difficult to handle. I have access to two beautiful studios and live in a country with almost endless opportunities to paint in the great outdoors. One of the studios, set in 5 hectares of gardens with a number of buildings of stone, mud brick, pise and timber which set a tone of French provincial to Gothic and has inspired many artists to visit or live and work as painters, ceramicists , musicians, luthiers, builders and gardeners for the last 90 years.

I have worked here both as a painter and a teacher for the last 31 years and occupied 5 of the studios during that time.

The Studio Porch- Montsalvat

Meldrum at the top of the stairs.

David Moore, the painter, invited me to join him at this wonderful complex in 1992 and share what was called “The Boat Studio” which was part of what is now “The Barn” until the disastrous fire in 1996. This room had been the last abode of Justus Jorgensen the instigator and driving force behind this establishment. A man of apparently strong opinions and an artist and architect of genius he drew around him admirers and acolytes who contributed their labour to help build Jorgy’s dream.

I had worked in the Boat Studio in the mid 1980’s with my teacher Alan Martin as he taught portrait painting workshops there although I first visited the place in the early 1960’s with my then girlfriend, now my wife. We paid our silver coin donation entry to Lesley at the Gate House and wandered the grounds and buildings soaking up the atmosphere little knowing that I would work there some 30 years later.

Off to the Great Hall

So here I am, still trying to wave the flag for the craft that I have been practising since first entering the studios at the Victorian Artists’ Society over 50 years ago. Whilst only teaching one class a week I still gain inspiration those students and continue to learn at least as much from them as I impart to them.

I have no idea how many students I have taught since commencing teaching in 1982 with the Woodend Art Group as a stand in instructor but apart from some periods of off time due to illness I have worked constantly at spreading the gospel according to Saint Max ever since.

My Eaglemont Studio

Apart from Woodend I have taught at Gisborne, Keilor, The Malvern Artists’ Society, The Victorian Artists’ Society, The Studio of Alan Martin in Eltham and of course at Montsalvat. I guess that the number of “Little Ones” as Shirley Bourne used to call her students that I have taught would total in the hundreds.

I can only wish that I have inspired a percentage of them to continue to practice their craft and that I have not done any harm along the way. I am aware of several who have become very skilled at the art of tonal realist painting and continue to practice and pass on those those skills to others. This makes me proud to have nurtured a tradition that has existed for centuries.

My Montsalvat Class

I expect to continue painting and teaching until I ‘drop’, as they say hoping that some students will catch the bug that infected me some 50 years ago. The perfume of oil paint, linseed oil and linen canvas is still one of my favourites, almost up there with freshly brewed coffee and the visual stimulation from a view of the Dandenong ranges or Point Lonsdale to the first camellia of the year is still thrilling.

What more could I desire?

The first camellias of 2023

Don James April 2023


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