Max Mannix Story
Nyah West is a small country town just near Swan Hill in Victoria, that’s where I was born in 1939. I always loved drawing and sketching with pencil and paper and I got good marks for Art at Castlemaine High School, I wasn’t too bad at cricket and football either.
When I was 16 I left home and went droving in South West Queensland around Quilpie. Back in those days our only mode of travel was on horseback and usually leading a Pack horse. There were three of us and the cook, (who had to look after the corned beef and damper as well as the plant horses.) and the three of us were responsible for the herd, about six hundred to a thousand beasts. Through the night we did shifts of two hours and forty minutes each. I had what we called the “pee and poo” watch around midnight. It wasn’t too bad because once the cattle bedded down for the night they didn’t move, which meant that I could doze on the back of my horse, and I think the horse slept as well.
I worked in mustering camps and shearing sheds and I did a bit of fencing. I reckon my generation has lived the best life because I’ve seen the world move from horse and cart to the concord and I have travelled on both.
From 1966 until 1973 I managed a cattle station for Dalgetty. It was about 1300 square miles with 8,000 head of cattle and 300 working horses, the property was near Thargomindah in the far southwest of Queensland on the Bulloo River. It was called Heartbreak Corner because it didn’t rain much and there were long droughts. I’ve always been able to see the humour in even the worst situations and that’s what inspires me. In those days, I always had my pencil and paper with me when I was mustering or taking a break from working the cattle. I carried my sketches and drawings around in a small leather bag like a school case and I never went anywhere without it. I suppose it was like a security blanket and the drawings were a statement of my thoughts and experiences and the things I had seen as I grew up. One of the greatest disappointments in my life was having that bag full of drawings stolen from a pub room on one of my rare trips to town from the cattle station.
When I came back to Melbourne in 1973 I needed a job. I was told that I had to fill in all this paper work to apply for unemployment benefits. They told me that this was the first step so the government could help me look for a job. The next day I found my own job as a screen printer and a few days later an unemployment cheque arrived in the mail. I’ve still got it. I taught myself to paint with the help of a correspondence course from America. It was called ‘Famous Artist’s Painting Course. ‘I also did some etching lessons with George Eddy who was a print maker.
There are four artists that have inspired me- Vincent Van Gogh, Peter Breughel the Elder, Russell Drysdale and last but not least Thomas Hart Benton a mural artist from the USA who was painting during the 1900’s.
I remember when I went from sketching to painting in Oils. The pure colour fascinated me. I absolutely loved creating images and my life flowed before me in oil on canvas. I worked each day at the screen printers until 3.30, came home and painted til midnight then started work at 7 the next morning. Something had to give so we decided to take the big step and give up the security of a job so I could paint full time. It was a giant step for a young family; we had 4 daughters to support and a household to run. We had saved enough money to last us a couple of months if I didn’t sell any paintings. I knuckled down and got into it. I was lucky. My art took off.
I had my first small solo exhibition at the Palette Gallery in Warrandyte. I remember a German tourist bought a painting of a cricket match. Frank Hardy, author of the best selling Australian novel Power Without Glory opened my first major solo exhibition in 1978 at the Wiregrass Gallery in Eltham. He gave a great speech and as soon as he’d finished, he started selling his own books which he’d brought along in cardboard boxes.
Three years later we packed up the family and moved to the Central Coast of NSW. I started a gallery outlet from home and with my work becoming more popular, this was an easy place to access art dealers from Sydney, Queensland and Victoria.
I was working mainly in oil on board but I also used acrylic, watercolour and ink, pen and wash and copper plate. In 1980 I studied figure making in clay with my friend Joan Matthews at her Central Coast Studio. It was terrific to bring my characters alive in a 3 dimensional ceramic form.
They say the strength of a nation can be measured by the humour of its people. If that’s the case then I reckon Australia would have to be the greatest nation on Earth. The characters I remember most are the larrikins and the jokers, you know, the real characters. They’re the ones who can show you what life is about. It’s been that way for a long time too. Banjo Patterson knew it and so did Henry Lawson and Steele Rudd. They spent most of their careers immortalising these folks in verse and story. I’m a storyteller with a brush. I suppose you could say that I paint yarns. I’ve illustrated some of their works in books, The Wild Colonial Boy ,(1982) Steele Rudd: A Dad and Dave Selection (1985) and Australian Characters (1989).
Australian cricketer Mike Whitney opened one of my exhibitions and called my paintings ‘dinkum Aussie’. I like that. I’ve always said that my paintings are a social comment on Max Mannix. My growing up in a country town, working on stations and droving cattle, these are my life experiences. I know every character I paint. I’ve worked with them, cried with them and laughed with them. I generalise situations and what I paint is typical not particular.
When it comes to my work, I’m simple minded and bloody minded and that’s one of the keys to my success. The other is having a good mate in my wife Lynne who ran the household, mowed lawns and ran the girls around to their schools, sports and outings. Of course now, to round out a perfect life, we have our seven beautiful grandchildren and another on the way.
Every morning 6 days a week, I sit down at my easel and it all works. Don’t ask me how. Call it a gift or call it talent. I knock off when my old dog comes to collect me from my studio between 5.00 and 6.00 to tell me its drinky time. I never tire of painting the established themes and scenarios of the bush, but every so often I like to branch out including palette knife paintings, Sydney Harbour cityscapes, nudes, contemporary landscapes, a series I call Lawyers and nursery rhyme characters inspired by the grandkids.