MYSTERY BAY - that's where we were headed when the sad news broke that David Bowie had died.
On leaving Sydney, at the start of our Big Lap around Australia, Barry had opted to put painting on hold for 12 months: too difficult in a caravan, too much material to carry, and not enough indoor studio space. He knew he would miss it, but continuing with his art while we were travelling seemed impractical.
Then four months later, following Bowie's tragic demise, a UK collector who had previously purchased three of Barry's rock icon paintings at auction in London, asked him to paint David Bowie as a gift for his wife. It was an irresistible offer. Bowie was the quintessential British Rock God, an absolute master of his craft, and now he was gone. Barry felt inspired to put paint to canvas and so, in a moment of perhaps madness, said "yes" to this request, hoping beyond hope we could find somewhere en route to Melbourne to do the portrait. Our timeframe was tight as we had a non-refundable passage booked to Tasmania, and we were also negotiating the last phase of the Australian summer holidays. 'No vacancy' signs abounded.
A close friend who was following our progress commented: "That's what happens when you head for Mystery Bay, the unknown occurs!" And she was right. 'Unknown' was an understatement. First, we needed to source materials, including a huge 120x150cm canvas, so driving through the sprawling coastal town of Bateman's Bay we phoned a supplier. No luck. As an afterthought, the proprietor referred us to the tiny nearby village of Mogo where a woman named Amanda ran an art supply store. Mogo is a brilliant creative arty little village, and Amanda's shop epitomised this atmosphere. Incredibly, it had everything! We bought the canvas and the paints, and asked Amanda if by any chance she knew of a studio close by. "Possibly," she said, and put us in touch with Perusha Devananda, a local artist. With barely the blink of an eye, and minimal questions, he threw caution to the wind and loaned Barry his studio. He and his wife, Ruth Snowball, also organised for us to hitch our caravan out the front of their house, with amenities and water supplied, for as long as we needed.
The project became an obsession for Barry. Over two nights, he dreamed extensively about Bowie and the painting process, and to describe the gestation period as 'tense' would be to trivialise the mood. Nevertheless, we all kept our cool. Perusha was particularly patient having rearranged his studio to make room for Barry's materials. On the morning he was due to start, Barry woke from a dream in which he'd envisaged the finished work in detail. His words were "I know exactly how I'm going to paint him!" He fiddled around sketching the outline for several hours, and then began to paint using brush and pallet knife. The obsessive energy that had built up over the previous days exploded onto the canvas, and three hours later it was done.
So it was there, in Broulee near Mogo, that Barry Novis painted David Bowie.
"Put on your red shoes and dance the blues ~ Let's dance!"
And dance we almost did. What a relief … like rain in a desert. It was a magical experience, not the least of which was due to our extraordinary new friends, Perusha Devananda and Ruth Snowball, who appeared out of the mist and gave us everything we needed to get the job done. What an amazingly generous couple!
By the way, we never made it to Mystery Bay, but we both feel blessed to have had this experience. Barry has been commissioned to paint a number of rock icons over the years, but none have inspired him quite like this one, especially given the 'mystery' and 'magic' that occurred along the way.
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Postscript: The recipient of this painting, Jackie O'Connor-Smith, later sent a photograph (see below) of the David Bowie painting hanging in her beautiful UK home, which also features Barry's John Lennon portrait, bought at auction by her husband several years ago. Jackie wrote: "I am the very lucky 'wife' in the story & I'm so ridiculously happy with my fabulous gift! Not only is my DB an amazing piece of art but the circumstances involved make it extra special. Thank you Barry."