I used the excuse of a recent significant birthday to treat myself to the just- released memoir by Tom Carment, Womerah Lane: lives and landscapes.
I think of Carment’s paintings as honest and faithful – both to his subject and to his process. Most often his works are modestly sized, sitting quietly amongst the crowd of the Archibald Prize; the Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize; the Wynne and Sulman; the Dobell Biennial; Mosman Art Prize and many other exhibitions.
Were I the judge, he’d receive the prize every time. He’s regularly received formal recognition over his long career of course, but it’s easy for his works to slip through the net. They don’t have the vivid drama or commanding scale of works that may go on to become popular favourites – though I doubt the artist would find that too troubling.
Coledale Camping ground
2013, watercolour on paper, 11 x 15cm
Images of artworks – plein air and still lives – are peppered throughout this memoir that takes a long look over the artist’s career. Carment’s writing is indeed, as Helen Garner commented, just like his painting: gentle and understated. He has a deep love of country, speaking fondly of travels to far-flung properties of friends and family. Much of his travelling is done on pushbike, affording him the time for a rich appreciation of the countryside as he quietly passes through. He describes how he will stop and simply set up to paint a scene that strikes him. Many images he paints have been painted before, some many times over the years. The artworks themselves are a journal of sorts.
Afternoon shadow, William Street, 1989
oil on linen, 100 x 87
It’s a sign of a master when a description of a quotidian object like a potato or an egg manages to cause true visual excitement…
Two eggs, 2017
oil on linen, 15 x 20cm
Tom and potatoes
As a painter myself, I perhaps predictably most enjoy those sections where Carment speaks of his actual painting process – his rucksack set up with a certain small number of favourite colours; a self-designed box to transport wet oil paintings so they are held secure but separate. Over the years he has honed his technique and keeps to the bare minimum what he must lug about. Painting, like writing, is always about what you keep and what you leave behind.
Alex Olivetto, oil on linen, 41 x 51cm, 2o17