HomePeopleDriven by art generosity and love

Driven by art generosity and love

“The two words I have lived with all my life are generosity and love."

David Dridan is one of the SA art world’s living treasures.

His distinctive landscape paintings are almost entirely devoid of human influences and his great love is to paint the solitude of the Coorong, capturing the scene to a point where you can almost hear the mournful cry of a distant curlew or taste the salty air blowing over the windswept dunes.

His art has been purchased by royalty (a Coorong scene hung in the Buckingham Palace bedroom of Prince Philip) and has been exhibited across the world to great acclaim.

But closer to home you are also likely to find a little gem among the clutter of wine bottles and hardware store gift vouchers on the prize table of a Rotary Club quiz night – his gift to the community.

You see, the 91-year-old continues to be driven by two words – generosity and love.

He particularly loves his wife of 61 years, Sarah, and his family, but he is equally in love with the uninhabited landscapes of SA, the community of Strathalbyn, where he has lived for the past 17 years, and art.

“The two words I have lived with all my life are generosity and love,” he says.

“They are both important.

“If you don’t love the subjects you’re painting, why are you wasting your time doing them?”

David is quick to reject effusive praise about his art.

“I’ve always drawn poorly … I still do,” he says.

“A lot of artists who paint brilliantly can’t draw and vice versa.”

But for someone so respected in the art world, he is far from comfortable in the limelight.

“I’ve painted for enjoyment, not for fame,” he says.

“I regard myself way down the list of Australian artists … I wouldn’t hit in the first thousand probably.”

Sir Russell Drysdale, firmly in the top 10, wrote of David: “nothing escapes his observation; a peculiar rock formation, the configuration of trees against the horizon, or the evening flight of birds.

“Perhaps the key to his character is the complete lack of pretension that causes him to be immediately accepted by total strangers in the most diverse walks of life,” Sir Russell wrote.

“This disarming approach to life enables him to accommodate himself with ease to a stuffy cocktail party or to a group of drovers in a bar.”

His artistic development … is due to many people offering positive encouragement, including Drysdale and Sir Hans Heysen.

Art has always played a prominent role in David’s life.

Growing up in Renmark he says he was a larrikin and an eccentric.

“I don’t mind those labels, most artists are eccentric,” he says.

“I still am.”

At age 11 he was commissioned to design a label for Renmano brandy – not bad for the son of a teetotaling family.

“I designed this beautiful label with kangaroos and boomerangs and everything, but it was rejected,” he says.

But the setback didn’t deter his enthusiasm.

Study at the SA School of Arts and the National Art School in Sydney was followed by more tuition at the Victoria/Albert Museum and London Polytechnic.

He returned to roles in the National Gallery SA and the Art Gallery of SA before becoming the senior art master at St Peter’s College.

He became a full-time artist in 1968 and has also busied himself starting a winery and art gallery in Clarendon, a farm at McLaren Vale, as well as part owning two restaurants and establishing the Fleurieu Biennale, a prestigious art prize for landscape paintings.

An Order of Australia award came in 2007 for services to the arts and the community.

“I’ve had all sorts of jobs as well as painting,” he says.

His artistic development, he says, is due to many people offering positive encouragement, including Drysdale and Sir Hans Heysen.

“Sir Hans wouldn’t say ‘now when you do a tree you should do it this way’,” he says.

“By looking at his work and talking to you he was a giver of information.

“He was very generous.”

But despite his hectic work schedule David would always make time for regular trips across Australia seeking outback inspiration for his paintings.

However, the two places which developed an unyielding grip on his artistic eye, and to which he would regularly return, were much closer to home – the Flinders Ranges and the Coorong.

He continued to make regular camping/painting trips to these places until his failing body made them too challenging.

“The Coorong is one of my favorite places,” he says.

“It varies so much and it’s also a very silent area.

“The composition of the vegetation and the sand hills are exciting.”

He would undertake many of these excursions with good friend Barry Humphries, an artist in his own right.

“He was my closest and best friend,” he says.

“He was a painter before he was an actor … he went through art school in Melbourne and got his diploma in art.

“He was an expressionist, a different sort of painter.

“He believed in putting paint on and that was finished.

“He didn’t muck around tiddling it up and so on – very quick.”

On these trips away David would sketch, take notes and photographs of the scene which, back in his studio, would act as a guide only to the finished art.

“I’d rather be called an expressionist impressionist rather than a realist,” he says.

“If I felt I needed to add something to build the composition, I would certainly add another fence post, or a tree, usually a dead tree.

“I don’t think I’ve ever painted a picture without a dead tree in it.

“I might change things around or do a composition of two places.”

These days David lives in an aged care home at Strathalbyn, surrounded by his art, and is visited regularly by Sarah, his children and a myriad of lifelong friends.

He still paints regularly, despite it becoming increasingly difficult, and says two of his best large paintings hang in the facility on loan.

“I’m still a larrikin,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

“I don’t cause any grief to the staff, but I do get into a bit of mischief.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be a bit cheeky.

“It makes them laugh.

“I love where I live.

“If they said ‘David, you could pack your case and go home’, I wouldn’t.”

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