The Pavilion on Warrnambool’s foreshore is the latest building to feature in local artist Tim Walker’s new piece, and the familiar figure spent this afternoon cheerfully fielding the usual curious pedestrian questions while putting finishing touches to his latest work.
Interruptions are an occupational hazard when the streets are your studio but this 60 year-old artist says it’s a fascinating place to work, because people come and tell him something special about the history of what he is painting.
“The street is neutral territory, where people come and feel comfortable to interact,” says Tim.
“My paintings often show the past in the present, and people are very interested in the past, so it’s an easy thing for them to come up and have a chat, and I am always learning about a place I am painting.”
It’s a two-way street Tim says, as public conversation does usually generate sales.
“I rely on being out in public to sell my paintings and that’s how most are sold,” Tim explains.
“People find me on the street and just come up, and buy. And most people in Warrnambool know that if they hang around long enough, they will find me outside somewhere.”
Working outdoors has its drawbacks says Tim.
“When the weather is crook, sales are down” he jokes.
“I’m known to dress in thermals, and don hat and gloves just to complete a piece.”
There are plenty of supportive locals who take pity on him Tim says, and show up with a hot cuppa ‘laced with antifreeze’.
“One time I was painting up near Canon Hill and a lovely gentlemen not only brought me a cup of tea but also checked if I would like milk and tea, and returned home to fetch them both.”
Tim began painting some forty years ago but says coming to Warrnambool was when he ‘got serious’ about painting.
“Warrnambool is where I started full time, its where I live and where I specialise.”
There is never any shortage of things to paint says Tim, but its buildings and their surrounds that occupy a lot of his time.
“Buildings are easy to draw, they have straight lines and they sit still.” jokes Tim.
Tim finds buildings and memories are intrinsically linked. He became fascinated as family members shared stories about a house or a building he was commissioned to paint,so began illustrating their stories into his paintings.
One of Tim’s works features a house with two sons playing cricket in the backyard, but simultaneously and at a different age the brothers are in the front garden where one chases the other waving a large fish at him.
“It’s a part of that family’s story,” Tim laughs.
“In another house, in the same street, a section of the landscape across from Warrnambool Primary School is replaced with the church of Santa Sophia in Istanbul, because the people who commissioned the painting had spent some time there. And there is also an area of New York including the Brooklyn Bridge hidden in there”
“In all of this I recognised what I am doing was painting images, and it’s like the shortcomings of a photo album,” explains Tim.
“A photo album is like a prompt, where it reminds you of your memories, helps awakens them. In a way that is what I am trying to do with my paintings. Evoke special memories.”
This independent operator has maintained his work by a steady stream of commissions over the last twenty years and says he always welcome more, but its painting round Warrnambool streets where he is at his happiest.
“When you actually get out and about, you realise there are some graceful buildings in Warrnambool and they are worth painting.”
Tim is planning a special piece which he says is always in the back of his mind.
“Warrnambool has a good range of buildings from the 19th century onwards, so I am aiming to do a painting with the ‘Top 40’ of my favourite 19th and 20th century buildings.”
Warrnambool’s reputation as ‘sandstone city’ doesn’t deter Tim in the least.
“The appealing thing about sandstone is how ancient it can look,” says Tim.
“Years ago I was painting in Liebig street in which I had included the sandstone Toc H building, and an old bloke came up to me and pointed at the building and said he had served in World War 2 and was stationed near the ancient pyramids, which he loved because it reminded him of Warrnambool homes because of the weathering of the sandstones.”
“It’s is what’s really fascinating about working in the street. People just come up and delivery history facts at random. They see something in my painting and it wakes up a memory.”
It’s the light on the Pavilion’s wall shaping shadows that has drawn Tim today.
“Over summer in particular I can’t work on the street for too long, it’s too hot. So I spend more time here near the beach, because they are happy scenes round here.”
“I’ve done the breakwater a couple of times now. For years I thought it was some horrible concrete monster, but one day I was down here, on a Saturday and the kids were cued up to get their jam donuts, and I went up to the top of the breakwater as a storm was coming across and I realised you could paint the breakwater, that concrete could be interesting.”
Tim sees a special relationship between the newly-constructed Pavilion and its fresh surrounds, along Warrnambool’s beachfront.
“Look at the concrete here, and the colour in the paving,” he enthuses.
“I love the curves, the way the paving lays against the straight lines of the concrete walls.”
“I have painted the previous café several times, which had a 50’s or 60’s charm about it – a sort of homemade building. So when it was knocked down I waited for the right view to turn up to do this scene again.”
The beachfront looks different in each season says Tim, who has waited patiently for an opportunity to repaint Warrnambool’s new seafront café.
“You have to approach each scene with fresh eyes,” says Tim,
“Even if you have painted this scape before you have to paint each scene fresh. So I usually choose a different angle.”
“Every change represents an opportunity to paint something new.”
Tim’s main paint medium – gouache – is an opaque method that allows for quick changes and additions he says, which is fortunate for on his final visit today the café has put their signs out in reverse of what is in his earlier scene.
“This medium allows me to set up the scene and wait for the right people to come along,” Tim laughs.
“I also use traditional watercolour as a medium but it is a bit trickier to work with.”
Tim Walker has also been working on the latest of his greeting cards, set for release at the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, and his artwork is available through the Warrnambool and District Artists Society.
“I did a course to run my own website, and then I decided I enjoyed myself more painting, rather than being a website administrator,” says Tim.
Our interview terminated with another curious pedestrian stopping to admire Tim Walker’s latest piece, and as he says he usually leaves with the sun I suspect he will be scheduling in another visit before his latest art piece is done.