45 Years on: Mervyn Moriarty and the Flying Arts School in Queensland.
By Christene Drewe | 21 September 2016
October 2016 will see the opening of a retrospective exhibition of the artwork of Mervyn Moriarty at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts Brisbane.
The exhibition will pay tribute to Mervyn Moriarty, founder of the Flying Arts School and the Brisbane Institute of Art. It will feature Moriarty’s works from the sixties to the present day and coincides with the 45th anniversary of his first flight to deliver art education to regional Queensland.
To discover more about Mervyn’s remarkable work, the collections of the State Library of Queensland are a wonderful resource. I began by searching the Australian Library of Art’s ephemera collection. Here there were ‘rich pickings’ documenting the emerging artist in Brisbane during the nineteen sixties.
The earliest piece in Mervyn’s artist’s file is a catalogue for ‘Paintings and Drawings by Mervyn Moriarty’ 13-25 June 1964, Gallery F. This catalogue is also found in the Johnstone Gallery Scrapbook Volume V, along with the invitation to a private view of the exhibition and a review by Dr Gertrude Langer titled Olsen’s “Net”. Dr Langer suggests that Mervyn Moriarty has been caught in John Olsen’s net as have many young Australian artists. Her appraisal of the work is not all together flattering, however she writes of Mervyn’s work; ‘indicates a good deal of promise arising from his refreshing new approach’. She also comments on his use of colour; ‘the colour schemes are often too insipid or colours too evenly balanced cancelling each other out.’
There are newspaper clippings reporting prizes that Mervyn has won and his use of prize money for flying lessons as well as a report of art classes in Emerald soon after he had acquired his pilot’s licence. I found another review by Dr Langer for the opening exhibition at Reid Gallery on Wickham Terrace (c1969) which indicates a very different attitude towards the exhibited works. She writes; ‘Color handled with utmost sensitivity and care endows the severe geometry of ‘‘Interrupted Dark” and “Interrupted White” with a lyrical life…….Both paintings stand out by sheer elegance and good taste, in a favourable sense’.
A digital story 'About Flying Arts' explores the history of Flying Arts, its activities and relationship with regional Queensland. This short videorecording has film of Mervyn, his plane & some artists participating in the workshops. View here (MPG)
Published works in the Australian Library of Art provide informative history, examples of original works by students of the Flying Arts School and Mervyn.
Marilyn England’s ‘From river banks to shearing sheds 30 years with Flying Arts’ published in 2009 sets the scene for a great Queensland adventure which was not always smooth flying. Her documentation of Moriarty’s problems and solutions for funding for the Flying Arts School are particularly interesting and give an insight into Mervyn’s passion for success of his venture. When faced with a refusal for funding by the Arts Council of Australia in 1973, Mervyn wrote to newly elected Prime Minister Gough Whitlam appealing for assistance. This request was favourably received and Whitlam sent his friend, artist Clifton Pugh to tour with the Flying Arts School and assess the program. Pugh (who had just won the Archibald Prize with his portrait of Gough Whitlam) submitted a favourable report which resulted in significant funding for the program. The name of the school was changed to the Australian Flying Arts School reflecting the major federal funding they were to receive.
The school flourished and serviced regional Queensland with art classes but this was not to last. The funding stream was lost when the political situation changed dramatically with the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in November 1975. Again the cost of flying threatened the school and it was amalgamated with the Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education in 1978. By December 1982 Mervyn was forced to leave Kelvin Grove CAE and his Flying Arts School.
He opened another art school in 1983, however the events of the previous years had taken a toll on his personal life and Mervyn left Queensland in 1984 to begin afresh as Artist in Residence in East Gippsland, Victoria. His original Brisbane Arts School is still operating today as the Brisbane Institute of Art.
The 'Flying Arts Book' by Anne Lord and published by Lyre Bird Press Townsville in 2000 is another source of historical information. The work features original prints by 18 artists including Mervyn.
Mervyn’s own work ‘The eye's mind: the artist and the draftsman’ was published in a limited edition of 230 in 2009. There are 16 chapters covering an artist’s view of sight, visual perception, drawing, practical exercises, perspective, phi the golden-mean, draughtsmanship, tone, geometry of form and the abstract. The content in the form of a manual, documents the wisdom of years of practice and teaching by a passionate man. The artist’s proof copy with corrections provides an insight into Mervyn’s eye for detail and his determination to deliver the best advice possible.
There are copies of A.F.A.S. gazette, Flying Arts Gazette and Update, the periodicals published by the organisation between August 1979 and October 2008. Together with various programs, Annual Reports and Conference papers, the collections in State Library of Queensland provide dedicated researchers with a wealth of information on the significant contributions to arts education in Queensland over the past 45 years.
Indeed Mervyn and Flying Arts have ‘done Queensland proud’ and what better way to celebrate this extraordinary achievement than the planned exhibition Colour: Mervyn Moriarty, A Retrospective Exhibition at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts Brisbane.
Hope to see you there and at SLQ!
Christene Drewe Australian Library of Art Librarian September 2016.
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