Barry Dickins Likened to Modern Day Henry Lawson

Mar 21 2011
Barry Dickins Likened to Modern Day Henry Lawson

Graeme Johnstone's Speech for Opening Of Barry Dickins Exhibition

I think it’s really appropriate that we are here today to honor Barry Dickins in an artists’ studio named after the Gecko.
There are 750 gecko species around the world, 91 of which are Australian. And the Aussie gecko loves a good feed, comes out at night, vocalises with a sort of wheezing bark, and has this amazing ability to not only walk up the wall, but go right across the ceiling.
And that’s a pretty accurate description of what happens during a night out on the tiles with Dickins. If you can remember it.
Now, the gecko is also an inquisitive little bugger, and for that we must be truly grateful, because it is his amazing, inquiring mind that has made Barry Dickins the great writer and artist that we know today.
His current project is a play about Henry Lawson, and that is a wonderful thing, because not only will he do a great job on it, but, ultimately, and my wife Elsie has often said this, Barry Dickins will be equated with Henry Lawson as the classic Australian writer of his age. Particularly as he doesn’t go for the easy target of the middle-class, rather the more challenging world of the Aussie battler. Like boarding house clients, Ronald Ryan, aging Pram Factory actors, and Fitzroy supporters. Oh, when they merged Brisbane and Fitzroy, the Dickins columns dripped tears. For Baz, Armageddon came in 1996.
And unlike the rest of us weak-kneed, would-be writers, who sought the relative security of a regular wage from Rupert Murdoch, although that does have its own issues, Dickins chose the hard path, the tough world of the dedicated poet, the true novelist, the genuine playwright, where the cheque is always delayed in the mail, publishing dates are put back six months without reason, and a play is held up because the theatre manager ran off with the usherette and last month’s takings. So as well as the death of his hero Butch Gale and the Lions, Dickins has overcome many professional and personal challenges, no better summarised than in the title of his last book ‘Unparallelled Sorrow.’ Yet, those cobalt blue eyes, that stare up at you in that boyish, pleading manner, have not lost their spark, and the great words roll on.
And not only that, the bastard can paint, too. God, he makes you jealous, doesn’t he? He has this rare ability, very few have it, of being able to translate his thoughts and views and observations, not only onto paper, but also canvas – or hardboard or masonite or the back of a dunny door, whatever he can get his hands on.
And like all true artists, and I use these comparisons without reservation, like Brett Whitely or Salvador Dali, Dickins has an original, immediately recognizable style. You can see a painting in the distance, and say, ‘Hey, Barry, did that.’ There’s a certain curve of the line, a simplicity about it, and an eclectic use of detail, and usually a quirkiness about the storyline. And he mixes pastels with oils, and metal and chalk he’s nicked from his last school in-residence. But above all, it’s in the eyes. Dickins characters always have love in their eyes. It may be love mixed with pathos, with humor, or possibly even fear. But at the heart of it all, there is always love. And that is a wonderful notion and emotion for any painting.
So, through the grand support of Kerry and Michael, we are lucky to be here today to see yet another display of the quixotic skills of Barry Dickins, this time, the artist.
Therefore, it is with great pleasure that here in the Gecko Gallery at Fish Creek, gateway to Wilson’s Promontory, a wonderful stretch of unique Australian landscape, just up the road from Barry Beach, I officially declare open this exhibition of a unique Australian talent.