Wheat on Lindsay

CAM Guide Chris Wheat has a way of bringing paintings in the collection to life - in the gallery, and in times of lockdown - on our screens. Knowledgeable about artists and their methods, in this playful reflection Wheat invites us to look more carefully at a small oil on board of nighttime Kowloon by Arthur J Lindsay.

Arthur Lindsay, Kowloon, 1943, oil on board. Gift of the Lindsay Estate, 1991. Copyright: Arthur J Lindsay Estate. Image: James McArdle.

Those who have watched Alfred Hitchcock’s much admired film, Rear Window might well find some uncomfortable similarities with Arthur Lindsay’s small oil painting Kowloon. Just like Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly attempting to prove a murder as they watch the comings and goings of the occupants of apartments across the way, we are drawn into Lindsay’s scene of mayhem from a safe distance, through a window or on a balcony well above the action. And directly across from us, in the humid tropical air we see ‘ourselves’, watchers on a balcony, indifferent to the pandemonium below.

Kowloon is a congested area of Hong Kong and Arthur Lindsay’s home before the outbreak of the Pacific war. He knew this world. In the painting we observe all its wartime chaos. It is a few minutes to midnight according to a clock hanging over the road on the right side and that time of night with all its cultural luggage might give us pause. No one sleeps in this greenish vision of Hades. Two brawls have erupted, and it appears as if the brawlers are sailors in white uniforms - possibly Americans fighting one another. A couple is striding along below the clock, unaware of the mayhem around the corner; a drunk leans against a lamp post; a sailor is bounding from a rickshaw to join the brawl between his compatriots; and hauntingly, just below and to our right a baby is being passed around.

When the Japanese took Hong Kong, Arthur Lindsay was captured and taken off to an internment camp in Shanghai with other Hong Kong foreigners. The camps were undoubtedly frightening and cruel although nothing like Changi or the Nazi concentration camps. Is this a picture of the war he saw or a work of his imagination? Did he have access to paint and brushes? There were no American sailors in Hong Kong during the war.

Born in Melbourne in 1912 Lindsay died in Castlemaine 78 years later. His life was anything but ordinary and we can only wonder what drew him finally to Castlemaine to paint quiet pictures of our world. In earlier days he had embraced a career as an artist and for a while took lessons from Rupert Bunny. He exhibited first in Melbourne in 1938. In 1939 he was sketching in Japan, after that he moved to Hong Kong. He returned to Melbourne in 1946 and again exhibited work, this time in response to his experience of war. Later he returned to Hong Kong and lived for a while in a Buddhist monastery. By the 1950s he was in Europe and exhibiting paintings of his travels in Spain, England and France. In France he sketched the great sculptor, Alberto Giacometti. Back in Melbourne and with his male partner he opened a sweet shop in Caulfield. We are fortunate that later he chose Castlemaine.

Kowloon places us, as viewers, comfortably in the dress circle, far above the mayhem of wartime life, but seemingly indifferent to its reverberations. We viewers are safe - but then it makes us squirm.

CAM holds nine of Lindsay's works.

Chris Wheat

June 2021


Chris Wheat

Chris Wheat has been a longtime, part-time resident of Castlemaine and is now a happy full-time resident. He has been a teacher and author for many years in the western suburbs of Melbourne, publishing five novels for young people and random articles for The Age. Chris believes that an art gallery can never be boring - consider for instance, CAM.

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