Some people are just naturally talented when it comes to creating something beautiful from nothing, and mere mortals can only admire and envy artists like Bruce Lynch. But talent can often come with insecurity and this Warren-based creative has battled debilitating depression and self-doubt.
Artist Bruce Lynch is one of those rare people who make you sit back and wonder how one person can have so much talent. Lynch is humble and unassuming about his art but admits to wishing he’d been more of a self-promoter when he was younger – it’s clearly not in his nature. He just quietly gets on with things. His painstaking attention to detail and endless patience have seen him produce photorealistic paintings of such detail they require much more than a fleeting glance to fully grasp.
As testimony to his skills, this year Lynch was announced winner of the 2014 Outback Arts competition in Coonamble, taking out first place in the open section.
Born in Warren and part of the Godson family, Lynch and his wife Cheiko, moved back to his home town after years spent living and working in Cairns, where the couple met and married.
Since arriving back in his home town, the artist leads what he calls the life of a “recluse”, spending most of his time at the couple’s home which he is mid-way through renovating. Lynch also does a little spray painting and detail work at a business in town for pin money, while Cheiko works in an aged care facility.
It’s a simple life they share but Lynch admits his nearly 70 years have been a rocky road at times. Haunted by deep bouts of depression and self-doubt that began in childhood, it took him years just to feel comfortable letting people watch him paint.
“It’s incredibly scary, you leave yourself open to all sorts of comments; you make yourself very vulnerable,” he says.
The artist remembers when he was living in Queensland he had decided, with the help of a therapist, to conquer his demons in small steps. He needed to face the fear of painting outdoors where tourists could see and judge his work. And as terrifying as it was for him, he admits it was a small but significant step that helped him move forward as an artist and as a more confident man.
“I got to the point where I was painting to please myself so it was really good and a real turning point in my life,” he says of the experience.
But he admits his greatest accomplishment, artistic or otherwise, is the fact that he is still here at all. He says many times he has had to fight the urge to end his battle, but courageously and with the loving support of his wife, Lynch keeps going. And looking around at his work hanging on the walls and scattered across a nearby table it’s lucky for the art-loving public that he has.
Today, Lynch is seated in the WoW centre with two small heaters cranking alongside beside him. His easel and tools are set up around him and he is blissfully unaware of tourists and locals entering the centre, quietly approaching him and watching him apply his minuscule pastel strokes on canon pastel paper. No-one leaves without expressing complimentary words about the art on display.
Lynch says he hasn’t painted solidly for a long time, years even, so when the opportunity came up to be the first artist-in-residence at the recently opened Windows on the Wetland Centre in Warren (WoW), he put his hand up and was offered the opportunity to paint and exhibit for three weeks in the restored church which sits adjacent to Tiger Bay Marsh.
Lynch moved to Sydney to work as a sign writer when he was 17. It was a good career choice for a young man who had always enjoyed being creative but had never been encouraged to pursue his talent, or even had it acknowledged. He took to his new career like a fish to water.
“Sign painting is an extension of drawing and painting; you have to paint pictorials to go on the signs and windows, so all those skills kicked in,” he says.
“As a child I loved drawing and sports because both of those are pleasures people can’t take away from you, so by the time I started working in Sydney – within six months – I was painting for myself without ever having had a lesson.”
To practice his technique he tips his hat to Readers Digest which, back in those days, featured paintings on the back covers of their magazines.
“I used to copy the painting on the back cover and that way I learned how to blend and mix colours, so yeah, I basically learned from other people’s paintings.”
In the years that followed he tried painting a variety of subject matter – horses, seascapes, ships, landscapes and nudes before settling on wildlife. Lynch has also explored a variety of mediums but admits he loves and has worked most often with pastels.
“I love the intricacies I can get with pastels; it’s perfect for photorealism. In fact, that style’s an obsession. I often think I’d like to loosen up but I can’t.”
Smiling, he says he paints from photographs instead of from real life because he can’t get “animals to sit still for up to 200 hours”.
Asked what it is about photorealism that appeals, he says he looks at every art work as if it’s a mountain he’s about to climb.
“You start to climb the mountain, you know what you’re aiming to achieve – the summit – but on that journey you have very, very difficult days and then some days are great,” he explains.
“Determination, passion, perseverance and patience are all part of the journey to the top of the mountain.”
He says the euphoria he achieves from a completed work is short lived and then a recovery period is needed. Then it’s back to deciding on the next “mountain”.
The artist has exhibited in Singapore and Japan, where he has sold the bulk of his works. Taking a chance back in the early days, he packed up all his paintings with the last of his money invested in the trip, with the hope of selling his work. It was a leap of faith that paid off.
“There was a doctor in Singapore who would buy virtually everything I would paint; there was a great appreciation for my work in the Asian countries,” he says.
It was through sign painting that Lynch met a spray painter and was so inspired by the craft he set about honing the skill himself. He not only succeeded but discovered he was quite gifted.
Around this time and via the spray painting, Lynch came into contact with the drag racing world. He offered to spray paint a drag car, cold. He designed the graphics and painted the machine. It was a work that swept him up into the drag car scene for many years to come.
“I ended up driving a ‘nitro funny car’ for six years,” he says. “A funny car in those days – around 1976 – was doing over 300km per hour.
“I also started building drag racing cars, did some panel beating and made some fibreglass bodies and then got into photographing the cars at race meets both here and in New Zealand and America.”
It seemed a natural progression that Lynch should learn how to air-brush his art on the cars too and began creating a reputation for himself in the industry as an all-rounder, and then some. He was once flown from Australia to America to paint and “letter” an Australian drag car that was racing in the US.
After 20 years in Sydney, when Lynch decided to move to Queensland and try his hand at something new, he began designing T-shirt graphics from hand drawn sketches for a company that was linked to the drag racing industry. He then shifted gears again and went back into air-brush art where he designed and painted imagery for boats, cars and motorbikes for many years.
When the tourism industry in Cairns took a hit, he and Cheiko made the decision to return to Warren, where they’ve comfortably settled in and adapted to country life.
Lynch’s next goal could be a real coup for the community that snaps up this talented artist. He would love to work with regional councils by providing “anamorphic” sidewalk chalk-art.
Anamorphic art refers to three dimensional drawings on footpaths that are eerily realistic and can include what looks like a sudden drop to an underground cavern or a water fall dropping straight down through the path, all sorts of imagery that wow onlookers.
It’s not something everyone can do – it’s a specialised art form but for this versatile artist and his talent for photorealism, it’s another in the long line of crafts he’ll no doubt master.