Eileen Brooker's Art
Eileen poses here beside her self-portrait painted when she was 19.

 

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THE ART OF EILEEN BROOKER

Eileen Brooker: painter, potter and keen onlooker of everything that’s good in the world.

Book

Eileen has recently published a book entitled Eileen and Oliffe: Letters of a lifetime. In the late 1930s, while studying at Hobart Art School, Eileen met and fell in love with fellow student Oliffe Richmond, who went on to become one of Australia’s most respected sculptors. With the advent of World War II, the couple were parted, when Oliffe was drafted into the army. They wrote regularly to one another, and continued to do so until Oliffe’s return to Tasmania in 1945.

Some 60 years later Eileen has chosen to publish the many letters she received from Oliffe. Not just a love story, the letters paint a fascinating picture of life in wartime Australia, and of the art scene of the time. Frustrated at being unable to pursue his chosen career (the closest he came to being a wartime artist was painting motorcycle parts!), Oliffe tracked down artists wherever he went. He often wrote about his ideas for paintings or sculptures, and adorned his letters with small sketches, which are reproduced in the book.

At the age of 28, Oliffe became the first sculptor to win the New South Wales’ travelling scholarship, which allowed him to travel to Europe and set up home in England. There, he was accepted to work with world-renowned sculptor Henry Moore. Oliffe became well-known in England, and had frequent exhibitions. After his untimely death in 1977, many of Oliffe’s works were brought to Australia, and today they can be seen in various galleries around the country.

The book can be ordered online from the catalogue section of the Australian Book Group website: www.australianbookgroup.com.au

Eileen lives in her Midway Point home in an idyllic Tasmanian setting with its rambling garden which overlooks PittWater and all that lies between it and Mt Wellington. After she has attended to her daily chores around the house, Eileen then embarks upon the things she is passionate about. They are many and varied. There is firstly her art; she loves painting. She is a keen reader, doing so for entertainment, preferring historical themes often by modern American novelists. She attends classes at the University of the Third Age (U3A) involving herself in, for example, play readings, and broadening her knowledge of the First Fleet, communications, sculpture, and the history of paper. She is a member of the Sorell Scrabble Club which meets weekly. She loves birdwatching. She is a member of SERVAS, an organisation that enables her to meet people from all over the world, stay in their homes, and host people in hers. Recently a Japanese man of 26 stayed with her — Eileen has his portrait to prove it. She recalls a portrait she did not that long ago of an elderly blind American man, who was also visiting Hobart.

She paints in oils, usually on large canvases using vivid hues. The subject material comes from life - people, places, plants, fruit, birds and animals. She often also does bold swirling abstracts. As you walk around her home, you will see a lot of portraits, a great many in pastels on coloured paper. Eileen loves the process of portraiture. She never works from photos, always from sittings; believing that every person she meets is a new adventure for her. She likes to draw out her sitter’s personality.

Eileen says painting was always her first passion, but for economical reasons pottery is very important. She has made thousands of pots over a long career. Her pottery studio is beneath her home with her oil-fired kiln outside the end of the house. She fires this up numerous times every year and then has exhibitions in her home. They are always successful. She works with white porcelain making a variety of “vessels” in addition to figures. She is finding there is lately a great demand for her little nudes in unusual poses! Eileen decorates her stoneware with cobalt brushwork, usually featuring human figures, birds, or abstracts patterns in her unique and distinctive style.

Eileen’s career has spanned six decades. She was a student at the Hobart School of Art in the 1940s where she was taught by Lucien Dechaineaux, the Pittman Sisters and Jack Carrington-Smith. Eileen says that if one didn’t marry young, travel and study interstate and overseas usually followed their college days. She began teaching in Tasmania after leaving the Art School, after which she studied at the East Sydney Technical College before going to England in the 1950s to gain further experience in pottery. She worked in four different studio/factories in England producing tableware and art works, learning on the job “from the ground up”. Eileen believes she received a very good basic training: throwing, turning, decorating, glazing and firing. She recalls working for Lady Elizabeth, the Countess of Leicester at Holkham Hall.

After returning to Tasmania she spent 20 years teaching in Tasmanian schools, including Fahan and Elizabeth College and with Adult Education in the evenings up until just recently.

Eileen never got around to getting married. She confided that she was very close friends with fellow art student, Oliffe Richmond, who became a soldier, went away during the war, later going to England to pursue his career as a sculptor. Oliffe never returned to Hobart to live, but an exhibition of his life’s work was staged at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in the late 1970s after his death. Eileen had maintained correspondence with him until then. She says that his friendship was very important to her. She recalls meeting Oliffe when visiting the studio of Henry Moore in England, on the back of Stephen Walker’s motorcycle. Eileen has maintained a long friendship with Stephen and his wife, Elizabeth.

Eileen has travelled widely, both in Australia and overseas. She has been to Europe three times, and has been to Japan, Africa, the Pacific Islands and to America. Her travel has always been art-orientated.
Eileen joined Southern Beaches Regional Arts because she wants to remain active in the arts within her own community. She hopes soon to collaborate with others to produce several books documenting her long and rich association with art, the Art School during the 1940s, and other artists in Tasmania.

The appreciation of art is always subjective, but nobody can deny that Eileen is one of Tasmania’s greatest living art treasures.

 

Some examples of Eileen's pottery
Click on the icon above to view an animation showing Eileen shape a pot from a piece of clay.