Among the lovelier lyrics in Don McLean’s song about Vincent van Gogh are those that refer to “faces lined in pain” being “soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand”.
- The Spirit of SA collection showcases people, places and objects with strong ties to SA
- The works will be auctioned off to raise $100,000 to support children with cancer
- At the forefront is artist Mark Lobert, who volunteered his time to produce 42 works in about 30 weeks
Something of that tender spirit is reflected at Mark Lobert’s Port Adelaide studio, where, for the past few months, an impressive act of artistic altruism has been taking shape.
“Hopefully we’ve done SA proud because we’re very proud of this collection,” Lobert said when describing the project.
Painting is a painstaking business, but these portraits and landscapes are about alleviating pain — specifically, the pain of very sick children.
Collectively, the 42 canvases will comprise the Spirit of SA exhibition, and they depict prominent South Australian faces, places and icons.
From Monday, they will be on display at Adelaide’s Westpac House, and will be auctioned online to raise at least $100,000 for the Childhood Cancer Association (CCA), to support children battling the illness.
Subjects include rock legend Jimmy Barnes, actress Theresa Palmer, the Hills Hoist, Kangaroo Island’s Remarkable Rocks, chef Maggie Beer, and pop singer Guy Sebastian.
There are also the ABC’s Collinswood building, AFLW star Chelsea Randall and former prime minister Julia Gillard.
“As a female in politics, and in general, she’s an amazing person,” Lobert said of Gillard.
“The painting that has been done of Barnesy is linked in with the Largs Pier Hotel.
“That image would have to be one of my favourites.”
The project has evolved collaboratively — fellow artist Phil Hodgson has worked closely with Lobert, and it is testament to their commitment to the cause that both have volunteered their time.
Each has brought different and complementary skills.
Hodgson’s talents include the ability to capture the lineaments of a human face, while Lobert has focused on non-human subjects, as well as color schemes and other touches.
42 paintings in 30 weeks
In person, Lobert can look a little like a canvas himself — his arms are impressively inked, and his paint-stained shirt resembles a palette for mixing colours.
His studio is every bit the artist’s den.
It is brimming with brushes, paint pots, blanks, and works in progress, and its floor is so densely covered with splashes of pigment that it resembles an example of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism.
But the paintings themselves suggest other suitably eclectic influences.
A carton of Farmers Union Iced Coffee, a packet of FruChocs and a selection of frog cakes evoke Andy Warhol’s soup cans, while the blues and yellows of an image of Adelaide’s skyline bring to mind van Gogh’s Starry Night.
“I kind of love colour, I’m always trying to chase color — I need to have color all around me,” Lobert said.
Despite that passion, he admits the production of 42 sizeable works in about 30 weeks has been a challenge.
But when he admitted, “I won’t lie — it’s been very stressful”, he spoke with the smile of someone who knows the finish line is in sight.
“They have taken a lot of time,” he said.
“Originally, we were going to start off with about 14 — then it went to 20, and 25 went to 30, then it bloomed out to 38 and shot out to 42.”
‘The fight of his life’
The driving force behind the project has been media identity and CCA ambassador Mark Soderstrom.
“I thought, we’ve got to be grateful for where we live, what can we do to raise $70,000 to $100,000?” he said.
“What if we try and showcase the best part of South Australia, and then auction them off for Childhood Cancer?
“They need something like $1.3 million a year to function and provide their services, so if we could put a dent in that, it’d be bloody brilliant.”
Soderstrom admits he is not “arty” himself — but he is impressed by the power of art not only to raise funds but to provide respite.
Through CCA, he struck up a friendship with Lobert.
Their work has put them in contact with some harrowing stories.
Soderstrom recalled the case of Jaxon “an unbelievable little boy” who was again palliative care at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“He was in the fight of his life, and his parents called him Iron Man because he was so strong,” Soderstrom said.
Soderstrom asked Lobert to paint a picture of the superhero for Jaxon, to go over his hospital bed.
“Every time he woke up, with the time he had left, all he could see was Iron Man.”
Easing the burden on children like Jaxon is at the heart of the Spirit of SA.
“Our father passed away with cancer,” Lobert said.
“So whenever I hear of any [fundraiser] that’s to do with cancer, it’s always going to be a ‘yes’.
“I love to be able to give.”