Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Arnold St Claire

During the 1960s, Arnold St Claire lived in Campbelltown with his wife Claire. A talented artist, he was a finalist in the 1965 Sulman Prize, and a finalist in the 1966 Archibald Prize. It was during this period that Arnold was also a regular cartoonist for the Campbelltown Ingleburn News.
A real character, Arnold held an art exhibition in a butchers shop in 1966, with 35 paintings on show. He also painted murals on the walls of the Railway Hotel in Queen Street.
Gordon Fetterplace remembered Arnold pulling off the "most successful hoax in Campbelltown history". The artist had negotiated with Fontainebleux (the former sister city of Campbelltown), for a prestigious local exhibition of French art. Gordon recalled dropping in to see Arnold a few nights before the exhibition to find him hard at work painting a number of boat and wharf scenes. Unfortunately the art had failed to arrive from France, so Arnold was improvising. The big night was a huge turnout, with art critics and official visitors, all looking at Arnold's paintings!
During the early seventies, Arnold completed a 3 tonne, 7 metre high statue of a rearing horse for  his friend Tommy Sewell, Hawkesbury businessman and horse trainer. The statue stood in the forecourt of Tommy's Tourmaline Hotel, named after Tommy's sprinter King Tourmaline. Tommy Sewell said of Arnold "he was a wonderful man - never before or since have i ever met a character like him".
Sadly, Arnold suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, and during one of his stints in hospital, he painted murals on the walls of the Male Admission Ward building, part of the Parramatta Psychiatric Centre Complex.

Mural at Parramatta, Photo Dr Terry Smith 1985




Mural at Parramatta, Photo Dr Terry Smith 1985
Arnold died on the 24th May 1974 in Hornsby Hospital of pneumonia following 8 days of the now infamous and discredited "Deep Sleep Therapy" administered at the Chelmsford Private Hospital.
A recent interviewee said of Arnold "He was one of our first known resident artists. A fantastic gifted man".

Written by Claire Lynch

Sources
Campbelltown Clippings - Jeff McGill
http://picbear.com/fleet_street_heritage_precinct
http://hdinews.com.au/hawkesburys-finest-tommy-sewell/
Local Studies Pamphlet Files
Robyn Watson Oral History
Trove

11 comments:

  1. Credit for photographs is incorrect should be Dr. Terry Smith

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  2. Many thanks June - my mistake. Thanks for your sharp eyes.
    Claire

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  3. I am sure i have 4 of his paintings he did for me back in 1970 all are aborigonial portraits all signed by him. does anyone have copy of his signature that i can check against. Mr Drew

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    1. Hi there - yes I have a painting of his with a clear signature - feel free to send me some images - I would love to see more of his work.

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  4. Sorry for the late reply. We don't, but you could try the Campbelltown Arts Centre.

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  5. Thanks for this amazing article on The History Buff was Just searching for Roofing Repair and found this amazing website of yours.

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  6. I had two (kitchen) tiles painted by Arnold. Aborginal portraits. One of them fell from the wall on the day that I heard that Arnold had died. I still have the other.

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  7. I have fond memories of Saturday afternoon art classes beginning in 1967 in the stables at the rear of Arnold's home in Sturt St., Campbelltown.

    Arnold organised an exhibition which attracted a number of significant Australian artists including Olsen, Upwey and Cassab. He encouraged us to exhibit our work alongside these artists. He never did things in a small way!
    In 1967 one of the Saturday group, Cec Burns, won the Sullman Prize with a three-dimensional work entitled "Exercise in Variegation". Arnold painted a portrait of then local federal member, Jeff Bates.It was not hung.
    Arnold drew a self mocking cartoon for the local paper.

    He encouraged me to pursue full-time studies in art but life took me in other directions. However, I have drawn and painting on and off - more off than on - all my adult life. I often remember Arnold as I pick up a pencil or brush.

    Peter Confeggi

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  8. What a remarkable man he must have been. Thank you for sharing your memories Peter.

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  9. I was part of Arnold St. Claire's Saturday afternoon art classes. He was wonderful, a true eccentric with great eyes (I had more than a bit of a crush on him) and he was very passionate about art. He held an art expo in I believe 1967 or could have been 1968, may have been 1967, and encouraged us to enter the art competition as part of the expo. I was one of four young teens who shared a $200 prize for our entries, which was a lot of money back then. I remember one of my school mates, Alex MacFarlane, was also a winner for his fabulous painting of by-planes in a WW1 dogfight. So sadly Alex was killed in a car accident. Through Arnold I learned a lot about other artists, he was friends with Judy Cassab, and I respected his talent immensely. He was always upbeat and full of praise for our sometimes dismal efforts at painting. He taught me a lot about painting, which I still do, and I will never forget him.
    Louise Zontek (formerly Nibbs)

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    1. Thanks for sharing this Louise - we love to hear these memories. Arnold must have been such an interesting person to know!
      Claire

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