A Blank Canvas by Robert Hollingsworth
This is a hugely enjoyable voyage into the contemporary art world, by Australian writer and artist Robert Hollingsworth. I note that he is both artist and writer because I think this is what lends this book so much of its authenticity. As much as it is about art this book is also about family; three generations of the Paumen family.
The strength of the book lies in its depiction of the family and all their particular traits. Grumpy patriarch Giles with a long held reputation for large abstract pieces, his son Laurence who found his way out of his father's shadow through conceptual and performance art, and Laurence's daughter Sophie who is already making a name for herself with massive portraits. Giles does not consider his family members to be as talented as himself and has the selfish outlook on life that only a recently widowed octogenarian can summon. We see him first at a wake for his dead wife where he decides to make a statement by urinating into the fireplace. While such a gesture worked for Jackson Pollock, Giles doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. He is not quite the bad boy of the art world that he would like to be.
During the course of the book, the three generations will all hear about a new commission open only to the descendants of Dutch settlers in Australia, and all three will independently start to work on their entry without informing the others. Each work will take them on a journey.
Sophie is perhaps the most promising of the group, but she constantly feels aggrieved at the lack of either praise or acknowledgement from her grandfather. This sense that she is being let down will lead her to experiment one night at reproducing one of the large abstract paintings by her grandfather, and then sell it weeks later for a no questions asked cash payment to a dubious art dealer. The fall out when someone attempts to auction off the fake painting will cause deep rifts within the family and push relationships to breaking point.
The finale, when Laurence turns the burning of the fake painting into a piece of performance art, will see everyoneeventually begin to understand how important family can be, once they are all out of hospital. A satisfying conclusion to a very humerous and enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Harbour Publishing House, RRP $29.99