The Artarmon Galleries Godfrey Miller Exhibition opened on the night of the 21 September and I with great expectations arrived at 4pm to interview Jocelyn Maughan. This interview and the exhibition itself were the stuff of dreams for a biographer. The evening exceeded my initial anticipation.
Jocelyn was the most warm person to interview, finding us an ante room within the gallery space, she proceeded to share passionately her memories as a student and her memories as a colleague. She described a unique period in Sydney art history when students were accepted at the East Sydney Technical College, on merit, at 15 years old and above – some as young as 14. There was also the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme admitting ex-service men and women 1944-1951. Jocelyn gave me a preliminary tour of the exhibition too, gently describing the rhythms inherent on the Miller canvases, the geometry in paintings and sketches, the flat patterning in the background to push a line forward, all the time opening my eyes to the importance of line and space.
People started to arrive around 6pm and the gallery filled quickly. The energy in the room was palpable and the smiles and openness on faces brought the rooms to life. Phillip Brackenreg, of Artarmon Galleries, introduced me to Godfrey’s ex-students, so many in attendance. It was at this point that I walked over the bridge into the world of the East Technical College of the late forties and into the sixties. I couldn’t scribble notes fast enough as minds went backwards and brought forward foundational years in their artistic careers. As much as the teaching standards may not have followed ‘lesson plans’ there was a certain magic that swirled around the great sandstone walls of Darlinghurst Gaol/East Sydney Technical College, now National Art School, at that time. The light in the artist’s eyes gave glimpses…and I have some exceptional people to follow up for extended stories.
The official address for the opening was given by Owen Shaw (ex-student, friend and who also cast Miller’s bronze pieces) who had given me a little pre-brief earlier which was
helpful partly because I have limited fine arts training and partly because his ideas swirl at a great pace bringing in art history, Sydney history, eastern philosophy, Miller history and literature. He paid homage to the late John Brackenreg, the late John Henshaw and noted Deborah Edward’s (Senior Curator of Australian Art AGNSW) significant work on, expertise and understanding of Miller. Owen also debunked the myth that Miller was a recluse, and I agree, my research so far both from within the family and friend’s of Miller also rejects this notion. Shaw quoted Peter Laverty on the importance of Miller’s sketches in his oeuvre – sensitivity of penetration in the sketches is palpable – and he left us with the picture of a mystic, a visionary, an enigma, a skeptic and a artist of the metaphysical who went beyond those before him.
I was kindly offered a lift to the station – my mind was reeling. I looked out from the train window into the blackness of the night and noticed I was crossing the harbour – the bridge of my return into Sydney city and into 2010. My mind though was still within the memories of those with light in their eyes as they spoke of art, the sandstone Tech and Miller.
The Exhibition which closes 9 October 2010: