JOHN PICKUP - ARTIST, ART ADVISOR 1931-2023
Dad used to make raincoats in an old fibro shed behind our home in Manly, a suburb of Sydney. He used chalk to mark out the material for cutting and his old pieces of chalk didn't go to waste. When I was about three Dad used to give me broken pieces to draw on the concrete path to our back door. I like to think that perhaps this was the start of my art career!
My primary schooling took place during World War II and the young art teachers had enlisted, so art lessons were given by elderly formally retired teachers, most with no knowledge of art. Our only tools? HB and 5B pencils, a drawing book, Indian ink and a steel nib pen. Ball points were yet to be invented.
The war was still raging during my secondary school years and the art situation hadn't changed as far as teachers and art supplies were concerned. But although I was never an academic, I gained my only prize - for best in class for art at the annual prize giving event.
After the war, watercolours and artists oils became available again. However I was not a serious painter, turning out very average works during the following 1950s. My first loves were photography and theatre. My broadcasting career began in 1948 (described in a previous AnArt4Life post John Pickup OAM and after some 10 years in sound effects I was appointed ABC regional manager Broken Hill, New South Wales in 1962.
Turning to painting again as a hobby I joined the local Willyama Art Society, but was still just another weekend painter.
In 1971 the Art Society held an outdoor exhibition in the rose garden in Sturt Park, Broken Hill and as we were hanging our paintings fellow artist Eric Minchin was working close by. I asked him about the solo exhibition he recently held in Sydney. “Good sales, and I had a request from another charity for a show, but haven't got enough works left. I've been wondering if you, Hugh (Schulz) and Jack (Absalom) might like to join me to hold a group exhibition of Broken Hill artists?”
"Could we hold another exhibition?" We decided we could and the exhibition was held in March 1973, again proving very successful. A journalist and a photographer from the Women's Weekly covered the exhibition and we returned home believing that this was a one off event.
However three months later the Women's Weekly came out with a two page spread on the exhibition and we started receiving letters from charities seeking similar exhibitions. We met again and decided that perhaps we could do some more for charity. What should we call ourselves? I suggested that the Weekly provided the answer and kindly agreed to us using their heading: - "Brushmen of the Bush".
The following guidelines to the charities were proposed:- the charity would provide the venue, staff, bookkeeping, catalogue and publicity, printing guest list and suitable official guest to open. The Brushmen would give the total commission on all paintings sold, we would auction a painting from each artist on the opening night and one artist would in turn give a painting to be raffled during the exhibition.
Over 50 exhibitions were held from 1973 to 1989 - opened by such dignitaries as Prince Charles, the Duchess of Kent, Bob Hawke (later to be Prime Minister of Australia), the Governor General and state Govenors and by the final exhibition in 1989 when illness made it impossible for some members to continue, we had raised over $1,100,000 for charities. Using the Reserve Bank inflation converter the $1,100,000 in 1989 dollars converts to over $2,169,000 in 2020 values, the latest year available. As we waited with our wives to be introduced to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent in London in 1976, I remember thinking - "Not bad for five blokes from an outback mining town in New South Wales".
Below is one of my paintings titled Nat Buchanan's Spirit. - Nat was one of the early pioneers of Australia and considered to be the best of all the drovers. Anne and I are also working on a post showcasing my works on Nat Buchanan whose narrative lives on in many ways.