A single piece of information can be transformative. It might be words that inspire. It might be an affirmation. It might be some practical solution to a problem.
Looking back over my life, I recognise there has been a person who has consistently spoken transformative words.
He was a young art teacher called Rob Malcolm. He couldn’t have been many years older than me when he turned up at the Art Department at Scotch College.
He showed me a number 12 Windsor and Newton Kolinsky Sable watercolour brush.
They are special brushes made from the tip of the tail of the Siberian marten. It comes to an exquisite point and has an amazing capacity to hold paint. The brushes were and still are extremely expensive professional painters tools that I’d only read about. Rob had bought one and he showed it to me.
It was thrilling to have the chance to see such a high-quality piece of equipment. Here was someone who was practically involved in the mechanics of producing art sharing their joy with me. I felt inspired.
The other thing Rob showed me was a zinc cast bas-relief panel. I think it was going to be included in a door. He’d just cast it and he bought it along to show me.
We had a conversation about Fred Williams, the painter, who had recently died. He had lung damage caused by casting zinc and zinc etching. It was certainly not a conversation I could have had with anybody else. I felt affirmed and recognised as a young artist.
Rob was very dynamic and energetic. My impression is that he was only at the school for a couple of months. He moved down to Yallingup and built and ran the Yallingup Galleries and a woodworking business, Rob Malcolm Furniture. I followed his career through stories that came up on the ABC.
For a long time now Rob and his wife Robin have run the Yallingup Gallery. Robin became my friend too. I owe as much to Robin as I do to Rob. They have both given me support and a lot of good advice.
It is still so empowering talking with Rob. He is generous in the things he says. Once I was struggling with how to use modelling paste to build up texture that I could engrave into. I told him about the problems I was having with gesso. He said, “oh, you’ve got to use it on raw canvas.” This just hadn’t occurred to me. Problem solved.
That’s just one example of how he has filled in those vital pieces of information that I didn’t know. Rob has even given me advice on the best insulation for my studio. It’s often very small things like that which I find so enabling.
Running a gallery is not an easy thing and most people burn out after a couple of years. Rob and Robin have persisted and thrived and I am grateful for that stability.
Rob, since the days of that school art room you have inspired, affirmed and problem-solved. I feel grateful for those precise pieces of information delivered just when I needed them. I’d also like to thank you for bringing that paint brush to school. As a young artist that was a big moment for me.
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