Reviews | Survival Story

The Adelaide Review, February, 1996

Billy Connelly once remarked that Western Australians often describe d themselves as the most furthest away people in the world. It says a lot about cultural headsets which fear or take pride in isolation. Perhaps it explains the criss - cross of grader roads which confer on the most desolate of regions the promise of proper directions and human habitation. No such reassurance for the unfortunate souls who survived shipwreck after the captain forgot to apply the brakes. Legends persist however of white fellas who hung in there, did a Buckley and survived Aboriginal style. Timothee Vasse was one such personality. A helmsman with Nicolas Baudin on his exploration of Australia’s southern coastline, this unfortunate fellow was lost at sea off Western Australia in 1801. He drowned, according to eye-witnesses, in the surf, despite repeated attempts to save him.

End of story you might say, but Neville Weston was in a speculative mood. What if…. This tough little Dieppe digger made it to the shore. What was his fate? Weston’s paintings supplied some answers; a lot of lying around on the beach feeling sorry for one’s self, a bit of soul searching, swearing at kangaroos and the dingoes and then….? Well, our romantic artist hasn’t given us a pile of bones, just the hint of a survival story which anticipates the many others which have become part of Australian folklore. According to the exhibition notes Vasse’s narrative is a metaphor for centuries of European colonisation’ with ‘hope, despair, alienation and dislocation wrapped up in one brief story’. It’s asking a lot of proto -surfer Vasse to be Everyman, desert island style and looking at his manic face once too often in Weston’s paintings I began to wish that the unfortunate wretch had been left full fathom five.

The watercolours, in general terms , wer another story. Relaxed and untroubled by problems associated with modelling figures and animating larger areas, Weston slipped into a fluent narrative mode which appeared to accept that Vasse did indeed drown. ‘ The Sea’s plaything’ worked because the interpretation mixed humour with tragedy. @ Sinking’ an image depicting the sailer arching backwards as he sinks below the surface was the real treasure to result from this over- elaborated but nevertheless compelling piece of historical trawling. And just when you thought it was time to close the history book, Weston had a bit to say in the South Pacific series about the French who refuse to read it.

John Neylon.

© 2014 Neville Weston