According to our Hinterland Times writer Gay Liddington, to characterise Maleny artist David Paulson is like describing his art. A mix of existentialism and the abstract, splashed with colour and wildness. His effulgent personality left her feeling hopeful and inspired.
A trip to England ten years ago steered David down roads and laneways not forgotten or lost in a myriad of memories.
“I was 62 years of age and had not been back since I was nine. I took my wife Judy exactly to the addresses that I remembered. We’d be driving down a road and the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up and I’d say, ‘It’ll be on the left down here’.
“We walked the same laneways I used to walk down as a child. The oak trees were the same trees. We passed the church and I sat on gravestones. They were the same graves I sat on when I was a child.
“And there was a tiny sign that said, ‘Syme Hall’, exactly as I remembered it from five years of age. We did that whole childhood rediscovery thing. It was very cathartic.”
David’s parents had died in the war. He was fostered by an aunt who found she could not care for the child. And then he was placed in a Dr Barnardo’s home.
“My earliest memory of institution life was a place called Barrows Green in the north of England. It had suits of armour in the hallways and swords and shields on the wall. It was really quite a magical place for a young kid even though it was an orphanage.
“And it was steeped in all this dark history. So coming to Australia from the north of England was astonishing. I just fell in love with the place.”
David says he was selected to make the journey because he made the most noise.
“One evening at dinner the superintendent asked if anyone would like to go to Australia. I put my hand up and yelled that I’d like to go. It sounded like a good weekend to me.
“I was taken to a walled village called Barkingside in London. We’d do our homework about Australia and learnt that it was very hot, full of Aborigines; you’d ride horses to school and pick fruit off trees. Then we arrived in Fremantle and discovered it was all fully civilised. I felt cheated!”
The trip was an unforgettable adventure for the nine year old. However, he had been ripped from his home in Syme Hall and the family whom he regarded as his parents.
David adds, “And I understand very well that the war left England with forty thousand orphans. But nobody wins in a war, particularly the children. I was just one of many.”
New life in Australia began in another Dr Barnardo’s home. The child had been sent from one institution in the north of England to another institution on Sydney’s north shore.
“It was just around the corner from where the Governor of New South Wales lived. And so, I was totally aware of inequality,” said David.
The artist in David Paulson emerged at a young age. He created and sold his first painting in England at the age of seven.
After settling in Australia he received a letter from the superintendent at Barrows Green. It contained two guineas (today’s equivalent of $100) and a request for a painting.
“You know how you read stories about children retreating into books and fantasy…well mine was painting and drawing. I retreated into that world as a way of rationalising my life.”
When David was ten he was collected by a couple who’d heard an appeal on the radio. It asked for families to take a Dr Barnardo’s orphan home for the Christmas holidays.
“They were such simple and loving people they didn’t realise how complex I was. It was the worst decision they’d ever made.
“I remember Feffie asking what I wanted to do. I told her I want to be a commercial artist. She then asked what else I wanted to do and I said, ‘There is nothing else’. It was innate.”
At high school, while it was evident David was artistic he was not afforded any artistic education. Instead the teachers wanted the gifted athlete to play football for the school. The troubled teenager was deemed a failure but in fact he was educating himself.
“I left school at 15 and worked in a box factory at Matraville. In three years I was designing the boxes. Two years after that I was working for one of the biggest advertising agencies in Sydney. I knew where I was going!
“I worked as a commercial artist in advertising while studying art at evening classes until I was 23. Then I decided to go to art school full time and become a painter. So, the privilege of being an artist was my survival mechanism.”
David’s work has been hung three times in the Archibald Prize, Australia’s coveted portraiture award. He is also a teacher at the Brisbane Institute of Art and says, “It’s a great privilege to teach.”
Every two years David has an exhibition at the Fireworks Gallery, Brisbane. He is currently preparing for the opening of ‘Space and Place – Paintings and Things’ on June 24, which will run for a month.
“The exhibition features a series of paintings about Mt Tibrogargan where I’m talking about the space around the mountain, and more than just a landscape.”
It also includes an existential expression of the Armidale countryside and sculptural style artworks of the male and female form. In one such work the chair becomes the domestic device of women’s suppression. It’s about emotional beauty and geometry.
“I don’t paint paintings about beauty because I think that if anything it makes beauty banal. I paint observations of the world or people. Nothing is more beautiful than the moment.
“I used to feel incredibly isolated, marginalised and lonely and then when you get older you realise that everything is connected.”
There is no doubt that David Paulson is an artist whose life reflects art. His connection with the human condition through painting is palpable…