For the recent Sandford Village Sunday last month our local art group, the Artists of the Valley, exhibited a selection of portraits alongside those of Harrow artist Ron Penrose (whose work is truly amazing). When the idea was first put forward I have to admit to an internal cringe. I’ve never felt very able in depicting people and wondered if I could contribute anything worthwhile. Still, it was a group show and I am a member of that group. So, who would be a personally appealing subject for a portrait?
Some time ago I collected a newspaper clipping of a photo of Bob Bage. I had not previously known about him, but the image tugged at my spirit. This gentle-looking man was an Australian Polar explorer, survived the rigours and trials of the Antarctic (the sole survivor of a team of three men), and went on to become a soldier in the Royal Australian Engineers in World War 1. He, unfortunately did not return from the war , dying in May 1915 near Lone Pine from machine-gun wounds.
Reading about this man, I thought of my grandfather. He too was an engineer in the First World War. Unlike Bob Bage, my grandfather, Charles Edward Haworth, was fortunate enough to return home to his family. If the Fates had not smiled on him, I would not have been here to angst over a portrait exhibition.
After learning about his courage and tenacity, and this year being the centenary of World War 1, I was even more determined to make an effort to depict this man in pencil. The likeness is not perfect – not an exact replica of the photo, but he is ‘my’ Bob Bage, a portrait of a hero.
The Great War and all who perished, and those who survived, has been much on my mind, partly due to the reminders in the media and partly because of an increasing urgency to collate my family history into something legible for others. The inspiration for my entry in this year’s John Shaw Neilson Art Prize was a poem about a horse called Darkie. I’ve witnessed the loyalty of horses, and the image of Darkie standing at the rails, waiting for a master who would never return from the Dardanelles tugged at me. After completing the painting, I wondered who would want it hanging on their wall – a giant horse’s eye with a soldier’s portrait in the iris. Sometimes, it’s a case of just ‘have to’ when it comes to creative expression. This was one of those times. And, it turned out to be an apt entry for the current South East Art Society’s group exhibition, the theme being ‘Remembrance’ in honour of the WW1 centenary. I was thrilled to be notified that it won First in the 2D category. The exhibition is showing until November 30th at the Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier, South Australia.