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Sunday, 8 March 2020

Tom Carment's Typewriter Paintings

I came across Tom Carment's typewriter paintings through a feature in The Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum liftout a week ago. The piece described Carment as "one of Australia's most accomplished plein air artists". But accompanying the article was an image of one of his typewriter paintings, which was painted indoors - in a shed. It's "Singer typewriter in Don’s shed, Perth", 2019 (above), which was a finalist the Sir John Sulman Prize, one of Australia's longest-running art prizes (1936-) and held concurrently with the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. The Sulman is awarded for "the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project" and is valued at $A20,000.
Carment, noted for his writing as well as his painting, said, "Every typewriter has its provenance, its own fingerprint – the crooked key that leads detectives to the blackmailer. My friend, the writer Elizabeth Harrower, who still types her letters, told me that she and Patrick White had a typewriter mechanic they used regularly, in North Sydney. It was like getting your piano tuned.
Alex Olivetto, 2017

"Cormac McCarthy’s battered Olivetti typewriter was considered so talismanic that, in 2009, it sold for $254,500, at a charity auction, after which a friend replaced it for him with the same model, bought for less than $20.
"As a teenager I found a grey portable on which I attempted to teach myself ‘touch typing’ from an instructional booklet, doing the exercises, ASDFGH etc. I never really succeeded. The eyes kept looking at the fingers.

"My remaining typewriter is a large office model Remington, bought in 1982 from a second-hand office supplies shop near Central Station [in Sydney]. I nearly broke my arms carrying it home on the train. The Remington was a step up from my tinny portable with awry keys; a V8 of a machine with a lovely action. I wrote my first book Days and Nights in Africa on it, in many drafts. In following decades, since the advent of word processing, this hefty machine has languished beneath my desk. I use it now and then to weigh things down, glueing primed linen to plywood boards.
"Last year [2017] I felt like typing a letter and brought it up to the kitchen table, to show my son Felix how things used to be done. It revived an old memory, the way it clarified my thoughts, the physicality of pounding the keys. Felix reckoned it was very ‘steampunk’. After that, I lugged it downstairs, placed it on some old dark floorboards, removed from a hatch near our letterbox, and started a painting. My partner Jan nearly broke her ankle when I forgot to put the boards back. A month later, I borrowed my friend Alex’s Olivetti Lettera, the same model as McCarthy’s, and then a Remington portable that I saw in the Grand Days shop on William Street [in Sydney]. A friend Fiona lent me her 1970s beige Optima, next to which I placed my father-in-law’s watch. I painted them all."

Carment was born in Sydney in 1954 and studied at Julian Ashton's Art School in 1973. He has been painting landscapes and portraits ever since. During the 1980s he lived overseas for four years, in Africa (Zimbabwe and Zambia) and in France. Carment returned to Sydney in 1988. His work has been shown since 1974 in 25 solo and numerous group exhibitions, mainly in Sydney. His work is held in public and private art collections in Australia and overseas.
Carment was the winner of the 2014 NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize, the 2008 Gallipoli Art Prize and the 2005 Mosman Art Prize. In 2002 and 2010 he was awarded the Alan Gamble Award (for the best depiction of the built environment) and in 2010 the COFA Art Award. He has been hung in the Archibald Prize 10 times, the Wynne Prize six times and the Sulman Prize and Dobell Drawing Prize three times. Carment is a three-times winner of the Waverley Art Prize. Last year he was the only artist to have works in all three prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW: the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes.

Carment's book Days and Nights in Africa (written and illustrated by the artist) was published in 1985, and his essays, stories and pictures have appeared in HQ magazine, Heat magazine, The Bulletin and The Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend and Sydney Review of Books. In 2014 his book about the experience of long walks in Australia was published: Seven Walks, Cape Leeuwin to Bundeena. Carment's most recent publication is Womerah Lane: Lives and Landscapes, published last November. It's an illustrated  book of non-fiction essays and stories covering 30 years of his experiences.

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