Love me, sailor 1949 signed and dated 'DONALD / 49' centre right oil on cardboard 76.0 x 56.0cm (29 15/16 x 22 1/16in).
PROVENANCE Kym Bonython, Adelaide Rudy Komon, Sydney Richard Crebbin Snr, Sydney By descent Joan Crebbin and Richard Crebbin Jnr, Sydney Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1991
EXHIBITED Society of Artists' Annual Exhibition, Education Department, Sydney, 21 August 8 September 1948, cat. no. 55, titled as Aimez moi, matelot Retrospective, Holdsworth Galleries, Sydney, 18 March 26 April 1975, cat. no. 34 Merioola and After, touring exhibition, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 12 July 17 August 1986; Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Newcastle, 29 August - 5 October 1986; Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong, 17 October - 16 November 1986, cat. no. 23 Donald Friend: Retrospective, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 9 February 25 March 1990; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 14 April 6 June 1990; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 26 June - 19 August 1990, cat. no. 38 The Artists of Hill End, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 July - 17 September 1995, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Bathurst, 6 October - 19 November 1995, New England Regional Art Gallery, Armidale, 10 February - 31 March 1996, Broken Hill City Art Gallery, Broken Hill, 19 April - 26 May 1996, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, 7 June - 29 July 1996, cat. no. 21 Donald Friend: A Charmed Life, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 9 November 2006 4 February 2007
LITERATURE 'Society of artists impresses', Sun, Sydney, 20 August 1948 'Society of Artists', Bulletin, Sydney, 25 August 1948 Sunday Sun, Sydney, 20 February 1949 (illus.) Christine France, Merioola and After, exh. cat., S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 1986, pp. 7, 24 Barry Pearce, 'Donald Friend', Art and Australia, vol.27, no.3, Autumn 1990, pp. 408-413 (illus.) Barry Pearce, Donald Friend, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990, pp. 60-61 (illus.), 146 Gavin Wilson, The Artists of Hill End, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, pp.47 (illus.), 49, 52-53 Paul Hetherington (ed), The Diaries of Donald Friend: vol.2, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2003, pp. xi, 603-4, 607-9 Lou Klepac, Donald Friend: a charmed life, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2006 (illus.)
"There's no future as far as I'm concerned. I always did things at total risk, which is why I'm an artist and not a grazier driving a Jag in a wide-brimmed hat". 1
Love me sailor was painted at the remote settlement of Hill End near Bathurst when the artist was a youthful thirty-three. The subject matter concerns the unprecedented and never repeated jailing in Australia of a writer for 'obscene libel'. In 1946 the Australian writer Robert Close was jailed for publishing his novel of the same name (1945). The painting that resulted from this topical event is also a synthesis of Friend's multi-faceted early interests: landscape, figure drawing, allusion, nineteenth century Australian history and satire of contemporary life. The work is semi-autobiographical, with Friend's own cottage appearing in the right middle ground. Painted by Australia's great inter-war figural artist, it brims with Friend's particular status as a privileged outsider. Homosexual, snobbish, arch and observant, Friend brings his mixed-media wit to bear on the subject matter of literary censorship, which for an artist fascinated by the tradition of eighteenth century English caricature, was surely a pressing matter.
Friend and queer life in Sydney During the first few decades of the twentieth century, many creative individuals found the presence in Australia of stringent censorship and the absence of a substantial art world reason enough to force them to become expatriate. They included homosexuals such as the writer Patrick White and the artist Roy de Maistre. By the mid 1930s, as many as 5,000 books were prohibited in Australia. In 1946 Friend resided in Sydney with a group of mainly queer artists, dancers and designers in 'Merioola', a run-down mansion in Edgecliff popularly known as 'Buggery Barn'.
In 1975 Daniel Thomas noted of the artist: "Donald Friend stands for the avant-garde of the 1940s, which returned to fantasy and imagination and looseness both painterly and sexual after a more serious decade".2 Friend would have been particularly attracted to the title of the banned novel by Robert Close as he had rather a 'thing' for sailors, who feature in his war-time sketches, his musings and his erotic imagination. Close's novel in fact refers to a heterosexual escapade. Friend emphasises the queer innuendo in originally titling the work Aimez-moi matelot, the French for Love me sailor. Robert Hughes correctly observed that "Friend was in turn attracted to and repelled by the racketing, gaudy climate of post-war Sydney. Often he succumbed to it, painting fripperies... But the artificiality of the society around him have him his Hogarth-like talent for satire unbounded chances to display itself, and he painted a number of large allegorical canvases.... These pictures were both well-conceived and hilariously funny: no other Australian painter has shown such a flair for large and complicated figure-compositions".3
Love me sailor is particularly well documented due to Friend's practice of keeping a daily diary. At Hill End on 5 July 1948 he wrote:
Sitting before the fire, I had the idea for another painting, satirising the trial of Robert Close (author of 'Love me, Sailor', whose book was banned, its author gaoled and fined) in as virulent a way as I can without being brought to book myself for contempt of court. I will have the judge as a scarlet-robed frog, waving a bouquet, frantically attended by perverse monsters representing newspapers. On his judicial throne there will be a coat of arms for the shield a teapot quartered with a ukulele, a scarecrow and 2 skulls and crossed bones, the whole surmounted by a bowler hat instead of a crown, and with a riband bearing the motto 'hocus-pocus.' The teapot-shield will be upheld by, as substitutes for lion and unicorn, a manacled Kangaroo and a donkey rampant. Robert Close will be represented in chains, led by an ape. In the background I will place a wall scribbled over with crude obscene graffiti: on the wall the spiked heads of D.H. Laurence [sic] and James Joyce.
Perhaps I will add also above this scene a heaven, below it a hell. In the heaven a choir of angels will read censored books and such classics (even Shakespeare) that are considered naughty by our vast army of illiterate prudes Oretino they will read, and Petronius, Apuleius, the Bible, the Chinese Room, Moll Flanders, Ovid, Forever Amber, Red heat and a scramble of others, great works and rubbish. In hell I'll have them painfully reading 'Eric or Little by Little', 'What Katy Did', 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' and such pure nimeny-pimeny.
The spiked fence was painted over and replaced with a wall, permitting the tripartite structure to be observed more clearly. The angel on the left descends swiftly with his face buried in Close's banned book. Another of the angels is engrossed in reading Lady Chatterley's lover, with her legs wide apart. An attractive blonde angel probably male - with good legs, offers palm leaves to the chained writer. The mouth of hell is like the red droopy lips of a trollop or a drag queen.
Close served ten days of a three-month sentence then denounced Australia, leaving the country for 25 years. In his diary, Friend pasted a later clipping of the painting photographed in the Sunday Sun, 20 February 1949. Entitled 'Kinseyism', the short entry quoted Friend thus: "This, I hope, shows something of my moral indignation at this moral indignation resulting in the gaoling of author Robert Close in 1946 for his book "Love Me Sailor" (1945). You could call it a bit of Kinseyism if you like. Men's behaviour must make the angels laugh or weep".4 Friend also criticises the materialism of his contemporary society; the houses behind the judge are labeled 'Golden Age Government Housing Scheme'. There is the suggestion of the state intruding on the Garden of Eden, here figured emphatically as Australia.
The work borrows from Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel in terms of 'eschatological imagery' the end of life, an age, the world. Friend had purchased a copy of a work on Bosch a few months before he commenced the painting, filling that part of his diary with doodlings after the artist. Vertiginously plunging angels such as the one he used here can be found in Tintoretto and later in one instance, Caravaggio (Martyrdom of St. Matthew). The acid colours bring to mind Mannerist painters such as Pontormo.
The surface of Love me sailor demands close attention. It contains much over-painting and ink work. As Robert Hughes noted of the artist; "Friend is a remarkably vital technician. He is at the height of delight when wading in coloured puddles of ink, slashing a line with the rasp of a fork-like pen".5
The work stems from a setting that was exceptional. Friend would have enjoyed the incongruous nature of the setting of the middle ground, Hill End, in which the famous single avenue of European trees, Beyers Avenue, contrasted with an eerie primeval landscape on approach to the town. The composition can be read as three horizontal stripes, with a generalized heaven above, a middle ground that represents the Australian colonial landscape tradition a Glover-like Claudian tree to the left; palms and colonial settlements including the eccentric township of Hill End - and below, an 'outback hell' that is in fact also derived from the sleepy ghost-town setting of Hill End. The landscape of 'Hell' follows closely Drysdale's paintings of the gold diggings at Hill End. Olsen later noted of the artist: "Donald has a marvellous Georgian wit, he's our Dr. Johnson, he's often so misinterpreted as being frivolous, but his humour is highly sensitive to the roundness of humanity".6
In its knowing use to Australian art historical references and traditions, Love me sailor prefigures the post-modern art of Chilean-born Juan Davila, who in the 1980s created major panoramas that questioned the authority of a singular landscape tradition. Such work was also self consciously performed in relationship 'to the long history of the censorship of art in Australia', as Davila himself put it, and also the particular perspective of the gay artist towards society.7 The artist's use of mixed media and shifts in medium in the one work, and the unfinished or sketchy nature of works have been related to a 'rhetoric of restlessness', allowing a chance to see 'the falseness in official discourse.'8 Friend's Love me sailor is an important staging post in the long-running tension in Australian culture between artistic freedom, conservative elites and state control.
1 Helen Frizell, 'Donald Friend, down from Bali', Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 31 March 1979, p. 13 2 Daniel Thomas, 'Art Refreshing Friend', Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 27 March 1975, n.p. Artist file, National Gallery of Australia Research Library 3 Robert Hughes, Donald Friend, Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1985, p. 46 4 Photograph courtesy of Paul Hetherington, Canberra 5 Robert Hughes, Donald Friend, Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1985, p. 8 6 John Olsen, Foreword, in Robert Hughes, Donald Friend, Sydney, Edwards and Shaw, 1985, p. 8 7 Paul Taylor, 'Introduction', Juan Davila, Hysterical Tears, Greenhouse Publishing, Melbourne, 1985, p. 13 8 Paul Taylor, 'Introduction', Juan Davila, Hysterical Tears, Greenhouse Publishing, Melbourne, 1985, p. 32