A THIN naked man, with blue painted finger nails and a skin so white that it was almost luminescent sat before 16-year-old Mandy Gunn. He called everyone “Darling”. Mandy’s first life drawing class at the Bromley Art School was not what she had expected. She was to learn that the model was none other than Quentin Crisp who famously said that being a model in life drawing classes “was like being a civil servant except that you’re naked”.
Like so many who had been through the deprivations of post-war Britain, she decided to emigrate as a £10 Pom. She left a country where, in the not-too-distant past, she had experienced a “hoo hah” when bananas made it to the shops, where egg powder was a poor replacement for eggs and where she needed to have a coupon to buy lollies. Her first port of call was in Sydney where she eventually met her now husband, Ian. Ian was a veterinarian who, among other things, worked pro bono overseas in such places as Timor and Sudan. Mandy would have loved to join him but as they started to have children she wasn’t in a position to go. Instead, when her first child was six months old she learnt to weave.
She started to learn what would be her lifelong passion at a Melbourne University Summer School, experimenting with weaving all sorts of different materials and went on to TAFE to further study her craft.
Thirty years after starting her diploma of education, Mandy started a bachelor of fine art at Monash University in painting and tapestry. And wanting to broaden her art education she went on to a graduate diploma in painting at the Victorian College of the Arts and then ultimately a master of fine art. Among other things she became excited at the idea of weaving the commonplace (and often discarded) to make the unusual, such as the two bibles she wove together into a long scroll. She tells me that as she cut up the tomes she couldn’t help but read the passages and concluded that in fact much of the Old Testament was instructions for living.
Despite this scare, she went on to take a boat to the Antarctic, travelling via the sub-Antarctic Islands to get close to Mawson’s Hut. They couldn’t walk the whole of the 9km ice sheet required to reach the hut because it would take too long and there was always the potential of severe weather changes and so they returned. Not so the travellers on the same ship just 12 months later. You will remember the expedition that got stuck a couple of years ago trapping 74 people for more than two weeks.
It really says it all about Mandy; she takes the slow boat to travel and the slow method to produce her art.
Painting is her antidote for the slow stuff, she says. With weaving she knows what the outcome will be – but with painting she never knows.
So how is it, you ask, that Mandy came to live on the South Gippsland Coast? She really has Susan Hall to thank for it. They knew each other in Lilydale and Mandy and Ian decided they wanted to live in a smaller community. They spent many an exciting weekend searching for a new home. Their dream was for a wonderful, welcoming community as well as enough land to provide space for a huge studio. They found such a place along the old Tarwin Lower/Walkerville sand dunes of Cape Liptrap, and built their quite sculptural looking home with the help of architects and local builder Gil Trease. Even though no longer teaching in an institution, once the studio was built, Mandy started up a now well-attended art group. She can’t seem to stop wanting to teach.
Her challenge is to use the things around her – anything from shopping bags to train and tram tickets, even echidna quills. And what she has now discovered is the joy that her friends have in collecting for her. I, for one, will be looking around me in a different way as I walk the trails of Bass Coast to see what I can collect for Mandy.
You can see some of Mandy Gunn’s works at ArtSpace Wonthaggi.