‘You can’t choose your family,’ said the eighty-nine-year-old man to his five-year-old great-grandson.
These are the very words that set me on the well-travelled family history trail; ducking and diving through swathes of digitised records, crawling in and out of rabbit holes lined with red herrings and eventually uncovering a family that you would definitely not choose for yourself.
Early twentieth century views trapped many women in a biological straightjacket, labelling maternally insane mothers as the worst kind of female, failing at the one job they had.
This painting is a portion of my grandfather’s story and is the sixth* portrait study of Charlie so far. It comprises a charcoal under-drawing on wood with oil paints applied at first with a rag, then a palette knife. The ethereal quality of Charlie’s face is deliberate, as the appearance of one who has passed away often fades from our memory. This effect is created by the faded charcoal drawing and background colours that seep through his features, creating unnatural skin tones. The white markings depict Charlie’s biography, ‘Abandoned’, that will tell his story on paper in 2018 – inspired by his own words; ‘You can’t choose your family’ (inscribed on the painting in Oleo Gel**).
‘Abandoned’ is Charlie’s story, one that resonates with many Forgotten Australians taken into care in the twentieth century. At the age of six, Charlie and his six siblings were abandoned in the Young and Jacksons Hotel on Flinders Street, Melbourne. Their mother suffered a number of mental-health issues – treatable in 2017, but in 1924, mental health and wellbeing were uncommon concepts. Early twentieth century views trapped many women in a biological straightjacket, labelling maternally insane mothers as the worst kind of female, failing at the one job they had.
This painting is on exhibiton, and for sale, throughout the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival event, ‘Words … seeing, listening, feeling’ exhibition at the Old Onkaparinga Woollen Mills in South Australia. Click here to find out more about this exhibition on Facebook or visit the website www.hillsart.com.au.
*Previous studies of Charlie are in pastel, pencil, water-colour and charcoal, and exhibited in the Hills Art 2016 SALA exhibition in South Australia. Please click here for more information about Forgotten Australians and to see more of Charlie’s pictures.
**Oleo Gel takes a long time to dry, which makes it extremely flexible if you change your mind. Don’t be in a hurry though and don’t leave it where insects are prevalent as they could become part of your work.