Tuesday, March 2, 2021


Pictured above: Wayfarer, 2021, diptych, acrylic on canvas, 37.5 x 15 cm overall.

My protagonist’s intricately-patterned lace shawl is based on the even more complex example reproduced in the first image below, a panel of Austrian lace dating from the 19th century. As with all of the lace depicted in my work, rather than making a straight copy, which frankly I’d find extremely tedious, I select elements of a pattern, rearranging and adapting these to fit the format of the image. Until the pattern is resolved and each component has found its place, a watercolour pencil (white works best on a dark background) is a useful tool. Needless to add, a very fine brush is essential.

The well-thumbed reference book is Lace, L’Aventurine, Paris, 1995. English edition: Bookking International, Paris, 1995, English translation by Sue Budden.

A series of progress views follow directly.

Friday, February 26, 2021

A second award for The Big Kitty

In somewhat belated, but nevertheless exciting news, the Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby indie film The Big Kitty, the fortunes of which we’ve been faithfully following on this blog, has received a second award. It was voted Best Experimental Feature Film at the 2021 Paris International Film Festival, which ran from 4 - 14 February. (To read about the first award, go HERE).

Shane and I were virtual attendees of the festival on its final day. Direct from Paris, we viewed the film on the big screen in our home cinema here in Ballarat. Warmest congratulations to Tom and Lisa, captured below on the red carpet with the Big Kitty himself, Monsieur Baptiste.

A review of The Big Kitty by Tom Higgins for Film and TV Now is HERE.

To view a short video celebrating the award, visit Lisa’s Instagram post HERE. (Don’t forget to turn on the sound in the bottom right hand corner of the screen). 

Pictured top: The Big Kitty official poster. Top right hand corner: supporting players Lewis Miller, myself and Gavin Brown. Far right: the film’s glamorous co-stars Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

P.T. Peregrin’s Morse Code for Beginners

The summer edition of the quarterly zine, P.T. Peregrin’s Morse Code for Beginners, has just been released. Co-edited by Trudy McLauchlan (whose artwork appears on the front cover below) and Prudence McBeth, it’s available exclusively at Trudy’s little treasure trove of a shop, Playing in the Attic in Sturt Street, Ballarat. 

You can also find Playing in the Attic on Facebook HERE and on Instagram HERE.

I was thrilled to be invited to contribute to the second issue of this delightful publication via the Q & A hello, who are you? which has become a regular feature of the zine. 

The article is reproduced below. Click on individual page views to enlarge. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021


At the start of the new year, the upper panel of the work pictured above (Idyll, 2021, diptych, acrylic on canvas, 35 x 12.5 cm) was one of two works in progress on my worktable. (See Moving Forward, blog post Sunday, January 3, 2021 HERE). 

In the weeks that followed, I’ve worked simultaneously on other paintings, and have only recently brought this work to some kind of resolution. At this stage, it’s anticipated that further changes, if any, will be minor ones. 

The majority of the protagonists in its companion works are characterised by their decorative lace collars, all of them based in varying degrees on examples found in the books on the history of lace I’ve accumulated over more than two decades. The collar portrayed in this painting is an exception. The basis for its design is one of the doilies I inherited many years ago from my late Aunt Eileen. Now somewhat the worse for wear, it’s shown in the second and final progress view below. I’m planning to similarly utilise aspects of the patterns in other inherited doilies in future works. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Anonymous Woman with a Lace Collar

Pictured above: recently completed Anonymous Woman with a Lace Collar, acrylic on canvas, diptych, 35 x 12.5 cm. (See also previous blog post, Tuesday, January 26).

As previously mentioned, Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 - 1543) has long been one of my favourite artists and three of his works, Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (collection National Gallery, London) Portrait of a Young Woman (collection Mauritshuis, Den Haag), reproduced below as postcards collected from past travels, followed by Christina of Denmark (collection National Gallery, London) were very much in my mind’s eye when I made this work.

My partner, Shane Jones, shares my admiration for Holbein. We were extremely fortunate that our visit to London in 2006 coincided with Holbein in England, an extensive retrospective at Tate Britain. A room guide of the exhibition is HERE

Some years ago, when my latest stay in London was coming to an end, I had a few hours to spare before heading for the airport. My friends Sue Verney and Bev Murray asked me how I’d like to spend my precious remaining time. Without hesitation, my request was to call into the National Gallery and revisit Holbein’s Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling and Christina of Denmark one last time.

Some of Shane’s and my greatest pleasures during lockdown were the films and illustrated lectures presented by the National Gallery’s YouTube channel, which we were able to project onto our home cinema screen. Their channel, which is highly recommended, is HERE.

For an illustrated talk on Christina of Denmark by Susan Foister, Deputy Director and Director of Collections at the National Gallery, go HERE.

The National Gallery is also home to one of Holbein’s most celebrated masterworks, The Ambassadors. Susan Foister discusses the work HERE.

How I miss London and its museums, which over many years have provided infinitely rich and varied sources of inspiration for my work. There is no substitute for seeing artworks and one’s friends in the flesh, but thanks to YouTube and regular phone conversations via WhatsApp with Bev, Sue and another steadfast and inspirational London-based friend, Barbara Britton, at least it feels as if the distance between us has shrunk a little. 

A series of developmental views of Anonymous Woman with a Lace Collar follows. The most significant difference between the final image and the finished work, top, is the suggestion of volume in the bottom panel through the slight sheen in the subject’s garment (not entirely clear in my photo). The textbook on lace in the second view below, a gift from Bev, has been an invaluable reference for this series. I’ll talk more about my sources for the lace imagery in a future post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Under her eye

Under the steely gaze of Alice, life in the studio continues at a measured pace. The photos above and below were taken roughly a fortnight apart, as the increasingly crowded bench top attests. When not in use for printmaking, the worktop frequently overlooked by beady-eyed Alice doubles as a repository for current paintings in various stages of progress. In the final photo below, I’ve singled out one of them. Initially the work was intended to comprise a single panel, but after some consideration, it was extended into a diptych. My next post will focus on key stages of its subsequent development.

A favourite painter of mine is Hans Holbein the Younger and the palette of this work, notably the blue-green background, was influenced by three of his works I particularly admire. Postcards of two of them, Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling and Portrait of a Young Woman, collected during the years we could still travel, are propped up on the drawers to the right of Alice’s lookout. These portraits and Christina of Denmarkthe third of Holbein’s works I’ve lately revisited, if only from a distance, will be discussed in more detail in my following post. Click on individual images for a clearer view.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

THE BIG KITTY wins its first award

Some more great news for THE BIG KITTY. It has just garnered its first award - Best Trailer in Another Hole in the Head - the San Francisco Virtual Film Festival 2020.

Hearty congratulations to THE BIG KITTY filmmakers and stars Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby, pictured above. 

Pictured below: a screen shot of me in the supporting role of fortune teller Madame F. Tom and Lisa made the majority of costumes for the film, including my magnificent sequinned turban. Seemingly the vintage black crepe dress, with its diagonal panel of hand-sewn stars and moons, was tailor-made for the role too. In fact, it’s from my own collection; I bought the dress several years before THE BIG KITTY was even conceived. I had never worn it, however, and wondered why I was bothering to hang onto it. Some things, it appears, are written in the stars.

THE BIG KITTY will screen at the Paris International Film Festival, which runs from 4 - 14 February. For a preview of the film by John Higgins of FILM AND TV NOW, including a link to the prizewinning trailer, go HERE.

Photo credits: Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Work in progress - final stages

This is one of the paintings that was on my worktable when the old year made way for the new. (See Blog Post Sunday, January 3). On the face of it, the picture appears to be fairly resolved - however, I sometimes like to live with a work for awhile before deciding whether or not further touches are needed. As yet untitled, the painting is acrylic on two canvases and measures 35 x 12.5 cm.

Following are a selection of developmental views.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

THE BIG KITTY - Official Selection for the Paris International Film Festival

In the wake of a new year that’s barely under way, we’ve received some exciting news. THE BIG KITTY, debut feature of Australian artists Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby, has been selected for the Paris International Film Festival.

Highlighting the new voices of independent cinema, PIFF puts French and International filmmakers with a positive message under the spotlight.

Built around its independent features and short films competitions, the Festival offers a wide look on both international and French independent production, in particular independent films broadcasting a clear, positive message with international potential.

- From the Paris International Film Festival website 

This latest accolade follows closely on the heels of THE BIG KITTY’s world premiere at Another Hole in the Head, the San Francisco Virtual Film Festival, which ran from 11 - 27 December 2020.

THE BIG KITTY stars Tom, Lisa and their cat Monsieur Baptiste with a supporting cast plucked from the Melbourne arts world. As previously reported, I have a small speaking role as fortune teller Madame F and my partner Shane Jones plays Shadrack, a corrupt Irish cop. The above photo was snapped directly after shooting the only scene in which he and I appear together. L-R are Jasmine Mahon, Paul McCluskey, Mariella Delconte, Tom Alberts, Lisa Barmby, Lewis Miller, myself, Shane Jones, Angela Cavalieri and Steven Kafkarisos. Pictured below: M. Baptiste and Lisa Barmby in a still from the nightclub scene.

In Berkleyside, John Seal included THE BIG KITTY among his top picks from Another Hole in the Head, The San Francisco Virtual Film Festival. His review, dated December 11, 2020 is HERE.

Shane has written about the film on his Art Blog. You can read the post, dated December 12, 2020, HERE.

For more about THE BIG KITTY, including a trailer and It’s a Wrap short, go HERE.

The Paris International Film Festival website is HERE.

For a list of selected films and to purchase tickets, go HERE.

PIFF 2021 runs from 4 - 14 February.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Moving forward

This brand new year may still be markedly tarnished by the old one, but in anticipation of better days to come, here is a preview of just some of what’s ahead, at least, in my little corner of the world. 

Due to circumstances entirely beyond my control (one of those infernal curveballs referred to in my last post) there will be further changes to my exhibition schedule for 2021. My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to Stephen McLaughlan, Director, Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, Theo and Soula Mantalvanos, Co-Directors of Queenscliff Gallery and Anne Virgo, Director, Australian Print Workshop, for their kindness, support and understanding and for rearranging their already brimful exhibition calendars with astonishing dexterity.

My revised exhibition dates for 2021 are as follows: 

Backstories, Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, July 21 - August 7. Opening 2 - 4 pm Saturday July 24

Rückenfigur (working title), Queenscliff Gallery, 30 September - 18 October

The George Collie APW Award Exhibition, Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, will also run in the latter half of the year, most likely in September. Dates TBA.

More detailed information will be supplied nearer the time of each event.

On a positive note, the delays have enabled me to extend my vision by creating additional works for both solo shows. Pictured on the drawing board, top, are two of several paintings in progress for my exhibition at Queenscliff Gallery. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Australian Book Plate Design Award 2020

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enchanted by bookplates. This is the first relief bookplate I’ve designed in many years. It’s also the first one I’ve made especially for myself and the first of my works to include our cat, Alice. That’s her third from the top in the group of photos below, obligingly posing with the finished lino block.

The biennial Australian Bookplate Design Award was the impetus for this project. For several years, I’ve been keen to enter, but each time the dates have coincided with a particularly busy period - usually the lead-up to a show. In this year of lockdowns, with all of my exhibitions postponed until next year (yet another update on those will feature in my next post) I found myself with some unexpected time on my hands. This time, I was able to make the bookplate a top priority. The closing date for the Australian Bookplate Design Award 2020 was originally mid-October and the bookplate was finished in good time for that. Despite its title, however, this is an international award and given the continuing uncertainties of COVID-19 in many parts of the globe, the deadline for entries has been extended to 28 February 2021. I’ll have a lot on my plate in the first few months of the new year, so have posted off my entry well ahead of time.

For many of us, our books and pets provide diversion, stimulus and inspiration, not to mention comfort and solace - never more so than during the months of lockdown - and it is to this that my work pays homage. The bookplate design incorporates the motif of Rückenfigur (a figure viewed from behind) that is central to much of my imagery and draws from a decades-long accumulation of personal iconography, including hair ornaments, decorative collars and stylised Arts and Crafts-inspired crimson roses. 

The block was printed on the little craft press purchased online during lockdown specifically for this purpose (see final photo below) and hand-coloured in watercolour. Dimensions are 15 x 12.5 cm (image) on A4 sized paper. A selection of progress views follows directly. 

For more about The Australian Bookplate Design Award, go HERE.

As 2020 draws to a close, I think it’s safe to say there isn’t one of us who will be sad to see its passing. Unfortunately, 2020 isn’t quite done with us and there’s no doubt the impact of the many curveballs it has thrown with seemingly ceaseless abandon will be felt well into 2021. Nevertheless, I wish each and every one of you a safe, happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year. But more than that, here’s to a brighter future when the last vestiges of 2020 are well and truly behind us.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

We need a little Christmas

Veteran visitors to this blog will be well aware that Shane and I take great pride in our Christmas trees. We have two of them. The small tree saw many Christmases in our house in St. Kilda before we moved into a warehouse apartment at Abbotsford in Melbourne. In recent years, our larger tree, pictured above, graced the living room of our second home in Golden Point, Ballarat. Late last year, after we’d sold both places and moved into to our new home in Ballarat East, we installed the big tree in our upstairs cinema room. At the time we hadn’t fully settled in and didn’t have the energy to erect the small tree too. This year, both trees are up. 

This time last year, our projector wasn’t installed and the big tree took centre stage. Now it’s been placed to the right of the cinema screen alongside two trompe l’oeil paintings by Shane. The small tree, our sentimental favourite of the two, is downstairs in our living room. (It’s pictured below, fourth from top, with Shane’s painting, Christening Gown).  Lately we’ve been sorely in need of some cheering up and got out the trees a little earlier than usual, with some unsolicited assistance from the irrepressible Alice (below, left).

Our Christmas tree decorations hold countless memories of travels and distant friends. Some are from such faraway places as Boston, New York, San Francisco, Berlin and London. Our most recent acquisition, a silver zebra, was purchased at Playing in the Attic, right here in Ballarat. In a year where international travel, and so much else we once took for granted, are just fond memories, our decorations are all the more precious.

Even the most eternal of optimists amongst us must surely admit it’s been a particularly trying year. The bouquet of white flowers in the two photos directly above is a recent gift from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Bev Murray, who is currently in lockdown in London. She tells me that according to the Interflora catalogue, the arrangement  is called ‘Hope’. 

One of many sad losses in the last twelve months was the composer/lyricist Jerry Herman. His song, We Need a Little Christmas, originally composed for the musical Mame, has never felt more timely. Incidentally, Mame is based on the novel, Auntie Mame, by Patrick Dennis, a book I’ve loved since plucking it off my parents’ bookshelf as a child. Mame Dennis is unquestionably my favourite fictional character. A measure of Herman’s success in transposing the novel into a musical comedy is that when I re-read the book, I can tell precisely where every song fits. Prior to the musical, Auntie Mame was a celebrated stage play and film, with Rosalind Russell starring in both. For many, including myself and none other than Patrick Dennis, she is the definitive Mame. For me, the great Angela Lansbury, who originated the role in Jerry Herman’s 1966 musical, comes a very close second. To see her reprise We Need a Little Christmas in concert, go here:
Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things but deck the halls again now
For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
It hasn't snowed a single flurry but Santa, dear, we're in a hurry
So, climb down the chimney
Put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen
Slice up the fruitcake
It's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough
For I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now
For we need a little music, need a little laughter
Need a little singing ringing through the rafter
And we need a little snappy happy ever after
Need a little Christmas now
Jerry Herman, We Need a Little Christmas, from Mame, 1966
Jerry Herman’s website is here: 🎄
For more about Auntie Mame, including a link to its author, Patrick Dennis, go here: