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Lessons from Papa Joe

Lessons in life gifted from a wise ol' art lover

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4 min

There are a few lessons my dad would say to me. 

Things like:

  • Put your head into gear before you put your mouth on the accelerator. 
  • Look people in the eye when you’re speaking to them. 
  • If you bump into someone and you’ve forgotten their name, introduce them to the person you’re with ‘have you met?’ then they can introduce themselves to each other. If you’re on your own then you’re stuffed so make sure you’re always walking around with someone...

I continue to learn a lot from my dad or Papa Joe, as I call him, even though his name is Michael. I think perhaps the name comes from Papa John's, the pizza chain. I guess he didn’t teach me how to read properly, or have good taste in pizza. Alas.

One of the biggest lessons my dad taught me was an appreciation of art. 

There’s a story he’s told me about a who-ha that happened in Sydney when he was 15. The Australian Government bought Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ for $1.2 million and the citizens and newspapers were up in arms by this hefty purchase. 

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock, 1952

My Dad had overheard many adults complaining that ‘it looked like dribbles or that monkeys could do it.’ So when his school took his class on a field trip to see the National Gallery of NSW he regurgitated to his art teacher the opinions that he had overhead. His art teacher took him to stand in front of ‘Blue Poles’ and said, Michael, just stand here for 5 minutes and you let me know if you see or feel anything more than just dribbles. My little 15 year old dad ended up standing there for an entire hour, the duration of the visit. To this day he said ‘That one moment was one of the most important moments of my life and it changed things forever.’ 

Blue Poles is now one of the most significant pieces of art on the planet, worth well beyond the original price paid by Australia. What is more valuable still is that this one piece of art connected with a young boy and completely changed the trajectory of his life.

Additional lessons

  • Think for yourself 
  • Look beyond just face value

 

Dad, me and Kitty in LA, 1994

As a result, when my sister and I were old enough to walk around galleries with him, he would take us on a tour of appreciation for paintings. As we got older, it became a place to go to when we were feeling stressed or a little down because it helped us look beyond our direct situation and helped us feel lifted up by colour, line and the narrative that inspired the piece to be made in the first place. It was also a huge point of connection and bonding for us as a family.  

As our appreciation for art grew, Dad started to gift us art instead of toys. 

When I moved to London from Australia, I packed up a suitcase full of clothes and another suitcase full of artworks from my childhood. Each piece is attached to a happy memory, birthday or special occasion. It helps me feel a little less homesick but it also has turned my room into my home away from home.  

Childhood collection of artworks by - Peter Godwin, Elisabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod, Keanna Walker, Purdey Fitzherbert and Michael Nock (yes he’s an artist too! A story for another time).

My 21st birthday present - 21 pieces by Dave Teer

I love the idea of creating connections through art as gifts that last and hold meaning. A full-circle moment for me was gifting my dad the artwork ‘Life is About Many Other Things’ by the brilliant Wei Tan. 

Art continues to connect us and mark the special moments in our lives as we all grow up together. 

Additional lesson:

  • Art connects people 
  • Basically art is great 

Thanks for reading, Camille

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kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it
kids who grow up around art stay connected to it