Gazing across the choppy vistas of Craig Waddell’s most recent show, I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. Headlands, with its craggy outcrops and deep dark blues, is full of places I’ve seen before but can’t quite think where. Places I know I’ve returned to time and again, yet struggle to find a location for in the old memory map. It isn’t until a friend sidles up beside me and whispers in my ear “far out, this reminds me of a Tim Winton book” that I realise it’s somewhere I’ve only ever visited in the pages of a novel.
Back home, I rifle through my bookcase. It was organised once, a long time ago now. Too many moments just like this one have thrown the system out. But I know what I’m looking for and I find it soon enough; a tiny hardback copy of Winton’s Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir.
“We live by the sea not simply because it is more pleasant to be a lazy nation, but because of the two mysteries the sea is more forthcoming; its miracles and wonders are occasionally more palpable, however inexplicable they be. The innate human feeling from the veranda is that if you look out long enough, something will turn up… The beach in Australia is the landscape equivalent of the veranda, a veranda at the edge of the continent.” TIM WINTON, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir
There is something very beautiful about the merging of artistic practice and a love of the outdoors under the male gaze; a particular sort of rugged romanticism that is captured in the work they create. It’s especially pleasing here in Australia, where ideas of masculinity are all about sporting prowess and an adventurous spirit, and only rarely about sensitivity and cultural engagement. You don’t become a Bronzed Aussie Warrior by walking the corridors of our nation’s greatest art galleries, you know? Maybe it’s what made landscape painting and poetry two areas of the arts where Australia’s influence really can be seen internationally. That this country so hell bent on creating super fit, tanned sporting heroes might occasionally produce an incongruous hybrid who also loves the arts and nurturing his creative side remains something of a curiosity.
“As an artist, as someone who writes stories and tries to make words into beautiful forms, it’s vitally important to me, especially in a culture that’s forgotten the value of beauty. It’s a primary source of inspiration, I guess, when so much of what goes on around you is only about money and big swinging dick capitalism. It’s important for blokes to be able to do beautiful stuff, impractical stuff that adds to life. That’s an early life-lesson from surfing.” TIM WINTON, Tim Baker interviews Tim Winton
I know Tim Winton is a surfer, there’s a hint of surfboard wax on the pages of almost everything he’s written, but Craig Waddell’s work isn’t that didactic. Nevertheless, I had figured him for a kayaker well before he confirmed it in conversation. A person doesn’t paint the sea from the perspective he does without having experienced feeling suddenly very tiny in a very big swell; to have felt the immense power of the water as it surges around you and know you are entirely at its mercy.
“I love the sea but it does not love me. The sea is like a desert in that it is quite rightly feared. The sea and the desert are both hungry, they have things to be getting on with so you do not go into them lightly.” TIM WINTON, Land’s Edge: A Coastal Memoir
There is a ritualistic aspect to the activities these men seek out. Both are instinctively drawn to nature, actively engage with it as part of their creative process, and intuitively develop works that resonate with their personal contemplations.
“In her time Georgie Jutland had been a sailor of sorts, so she knew exactly what it meant to lose seaway, to be dead in the water. She recognized the sensation only too well. And that spring she had slipped overboard without a sound.” TIM WINTON, Dirt Music
A rhythmic undercurrent permeates all aspects of Craig Waddell’s life, from the easy too-and-fro between himself and his studio buddy, his wife Jessie Cacchillo; to the way he describes the flow of his first love, cricket, with the sweep of the bowler’s arm as it prepares to hurl leather towards willow, and the swoosh through the air as the batsman sends a ball towards the boundary. It is in the roll of the ocean as he waits atop his kayak for a wave to help him paddle back in to shore, and in the smoothing on and scraping off of paint as he creates the textured canvases for which he is so well known. So too Tim Winton, whose writing has a lyrical beat of its own, pulsating with the same emotive force as the characters he creates.
“She pulled back the sliding door and stepped out onto the terrace where the air was cool and thick with the smells of stewing seagrass, of brine and limey sand, of thawing bait and the savoury tang of saltbush…Georgie stood out there longer than was comfortable, until her breasts ached from the chill and her hair felt as though it was shrinking. She saw the moon tip across the lagoon until its last light caught on bow rails and biminis and windscreens, making mooring buoys into fitful, flickering stars. And then it was gone and the sea was dark and blank.” TIM WINTON, Dirt Music
Water is everywhere in Winton’s work, but the sea came later to Waddell. Growing up in Galston meant farm life, and the roosters, tractors and faces of his childhood featured heavily early in his career. But subject matter is only a small part of the creative process for Waddell. He is equally inspired by his love of paint and texture, and his constant desire to have fun and enjoy what he does. He continues to explore different mediums, experimenting with random elements like adding concrete dust from a recent home renovation to his paint pots, and revelling in the results. Occasionally he plays with portraiture as a way of validating his artistic ability, but chooses not to paint faces outside his immediate circle of family and friends. With the seascapes of Headlands, he has perhaps found the perfect blend of subject and process, inspiration reaching him like flotsam and jetsam on the tide.
“There is more bounty, more possibility for us in a vista that moves, rolls, surges, twists, rears up and changes from minute to minute.” TIM WINTON, Land’s End: A Coastal Memoir
I don’t know if Waddell and Winton know each other, I doubt very much that matters, but somewhere in the rhythm of the language they each use and the energy with which they imbue their work, there is a confluence of thought and understanding. That they express themselves through two entirely different mediums is irrelevant. Waddell and Winton, the painter and the scribe, are on the same wavelength.
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I would prefer to be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings.” TIM WINTON, Land’s End: A Coastal Memoir
Images care of Edwina Corlette Gallery