submitted by Peter Tsicalas on 07.05.2004
Blue Roses (Betty the Barmaid) by James Fardoulys 1964
James Nick Fardoulis, 1900 Potamos – 1975 Brisbane, landed 1914 and went to Warwick to join his uncle, Mick Charles Catsoulis. He also spent some time in Bellingen, Tamworth and Stanthorpe prior to he and his brother Stathis following Catsoulis to Goondiwindi in 1916. They subsequently bought the business, but around 1922/23 James seems to have split from Stathis and taken the road to Southport to acquire Jack Cos Aroney’s cafe. (See Golden Gate café photo at http://www.pictureaustralia.org/apps/pictureaustralia .)
The Southport venture only lasted a year or so, but the experience decided him against pursuing the art of cooking. He subsequently spent many years in the travelling theatre business before settling in Brisbane in ~1940 to become a taxi owner/driver. His art slowly evolved over the following years as he lived a bohemian lifestyle in the circle of Blackman, Churcher, et al, but flourished after he gave the driving side of the business the flick. His ‘naïve style’ became very well known and features in various art books and galleries. The National Gallery in Canberra holds four paintings.
The following interview, conducted in 1972, appeared in an art book, the details of which unfortunately went unrecorded. Thanks to the art lover Gaye Hegeman (granddaughter of Theo George Andronicos of Narrabri, Boggabri, Coonamble and Brisbane) for the transcript.
The author’s two page preamble finishes with:
The visit to Fardoulys occurred in 1972. I was not to see him again. I was immersed in a legal practice at the time and had difficulty completing the manuscript of this book. Not long after my visit he wrote a letter to Barbara Blackman, part of which I quote as an example of his style and personality. It is written in a flowing script, slightly uneven, with frequent underlinings (I have altered the punctuation where absolutely necessary).
I don’t know if I wrote to you that my brother Peter got killed by a taxi 3 weeks ago tonight – I miss him terrible – a very humble man – he left no will and about $2000 – so all the sharks are in for the kill. I am not worried for the money – but it’s disturbing Barbara. Very humble and proud to be his Brother (Peter my brother).
Roy Churcher is going to Europe – he was here collecting letters of introduction to my island Kythera … I gave him the Bishop – the School Teacher – (I was the scholar of Greece at 12 years of age) – the Magistrate, the President of the Community of POTAMOS (my town) the Bank Manager, the leading Doctors & Hospital Staff & two Good Legal men. HOW is that Barbara?!
I have a Daughter in Sydney Shirley by my first marriage – Good Girl Barbara … you try and find her for me in the Electoral Rolls Barabara – Shirley FARDOULYS.
Don’t worry about the Book – I have got plenty – I will try & get your painting for Xmas, Burke and Wills 1870. I finished Migration to Gympie 1850 – one of my Greatest ever (Beautifull). My solicitor-barrister bought it on my conditions – no delivery before Xmas. I want the poor masses to see it. You see Barbara I am for the people and not Dictatorships!!! We have one right here! I am looking for someone to write my memoirs – it will be terrific – nobody knows my life.
Ask Charlie & the other Gentleman about it. I can get plenty here. The Melbourne Critics call my work a continuous Colourful Pantomime – and all my Collectors have one of mine over their bed – Margaret Carnegie has over her Bed my original Self-portrait. I said to her What about Doug? The husband? Oh – she said My dear Jim, he loves you too. Who cares.
I am very proud as a human being but I am also the Poorest Greek in Australia but you know the Rest.
Love to all
From Jim & Claire
James Fardoulys died in Brisbane in 1975, and Claire died in the following year. At the time I met him in 1972 he had been married to Claire for about a year. Peter Fardoulys, his son, told me that originally Claire had been married to a friend of Jimmy’s and it was the friend’s dying wish that Jimmy should look after Claire. They lived together for some years before marrying.
Even in old age he was passionately proud of the good looks of his first wife. One imagines that she and Jimmy must have been a striking couple when they were first married.
In his taxi-driving days Fardoulys was interested in art and particularly in drawing, but he seems to have been even more interested in his work as an amateur inventor and designer. The one or two paintings he did then were academic in approach. In this respect he differs from the other painters in this book, as he is quite a fair draughtsman.
The paintings of Fardoulys are visually exciting, with details such as the flowering red poinciana tree burning against the blue sky above the naked figure of the girl in the Embarrassed Model, [Plate12], or the similar white-flowering tree in Village Smithies [Plate 13]. Another horse-and-smith painting with similar composition has a wonderful jacaranda tree flowering against a dull sky.
Often the details seem to have no direct relationship to the main subject-matter of the painting. In Blue Roses [Plate14], the collection of flowers surrounding the barmaid, who is the main subject, emphasizes her allure, but the white horse rearing on its hind legs on the right side is irrelevant if beautiful. Blue Roses was originally called Betty the Barmaid, but the old title was painted out and the new one painted in. Women are among Fardoulys’s favourite subjects, although horses and cattle (and perhaps brightly coloured parrots) occur most frequently in his paintings. The barmaid lacks conventional prettiness but has a dark and arresting beauty. As she holds the stems of gladioli flowers which are only just about to open, and places her other and on the counter, her pose is one of challenge. The white horse echoes her mood. There is a sensual dent between her nose and the top lip, which is suggested by a brown shadow. Not all of Fardoulys’s paintings of women are as successful. While the suggestion of Betty The Barmaid’s breast through the tight black dress is quite dramatic, in paintings of naked Aboriginal girls the result is generally coarse.
The visual excitement of many of his paintings also has drawbacks. Particularly in paintings done within the last six years or so of his life, there are too many coloured cliffs and pretty parrots. In Village Smithies and Animal Devotion Down Sydney Town [Plate15] the colouring is much subtler than in some of his recent work. In Animal Devotion Down Sydney Town the moral degradation of the drunken dog-owner is matched by the stormy electric sky, which is similar to the wonderful sky in Four Ghost Horses [Plate 16].
There are a number of other recurring themes which appear in Four Ghost Horses. I have seen at least one other painting by Fardoulys in which there is a ghost coach and horses suggested by a blank white silhouette (its title, if I remember rightly, is Infinity of Time), although the device does not work in that particular painting. Bunya pines also recur – Four Ghost Horses has one leaning on the right. Mobs of cattle often appear. All these theme, however, are joined in Four Ghost Horses with singular power. It is, like most of his best paintings, from his earlier period. The later paintings have about them a perfunctory gaudiness. There is almost invariably a cloud sitting across the sky like a long foreboding flying saucer, with a varied assortment of parrots and other birds flying or perched in trees. Dramatic rock formations, a waterhole, mobs of cattle and men on horseback are the other ingredients for the formula. Some of these paintings are impressive, such as Burke and Wills (in the Sydney Art Gallery). But they are disappointing when compared with the work he painted during his early and middle sixties.
Most of Fardoulys’s paintings are thoroughly Australian in subject matter. Many of them are historical and have titles such as Migration to Queensland – which shows a group of early settlers urging their mobs along. Occasionally, as in St. George and the Dragon, he deals with European subject-matter. In The Embarrassed Model [Plate 12] the figure of the naked girl is seated in the centre of the painting like a madonna, while the red poinciana and yellow wall provide a suitably splendid setting for the painter to celebrate the awkward and charming beauty of the girl.
In The Embarrassed Model one feels the influence of religious works which Fardoulys may have absorbed as a child in Greece. One hesitates to point to other influences, although primitive painters tend to develop distinctive obsessions. In the interview which follows Fardoulys makes the intriguing suggestion that he hardly ever did a painting without water in it somewhere. (This is not altogether true, as a number of his paintings contain no sign of water. It is true, however, of his large historical panoramas of the outback.) Animals are another element that never seems to be absent from his paintings. Even in The Embarrassed Model a white, fluffy cat is sitting in the foreground, and parrots and a peacock are arranged on the yellow wall above the model. Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of the Flowers”, which shows balletomaniac blue and red roses waltzing, and even flower beds describing great arabesques of colour in a paddock, while a squadron of clouds wheel in formation, has (inevitable) three horses. All of the twenty reproductions in my files have at least one animal in them. I cannot recall a Fardoulys painting without one. In many of the paintings the main point is an animal. Only the figures of a few women equal his depiction of animals.
Like many other primitive painters he is happier in the work of animals and flowers than in the world of human beings.
I could have been a rich Greek, but I suppose I am what do you call it – a bit like one of your English bohemians. I was born in Greece, in Kythera, in 1900. I can’t forget my age. Every time I look at the calendar I get scared. I came out to Australia when I was fourteen. My mother was a wonderful woman. I was on a German ship in Colombo when the war broke out. We finished up in Batavia. My mother borrowed money to send me out. The Dutch and Indonesians treated us like dogs. We were sent to barracks in a quarantine station where there was no fresh water. We had no consulate to help us. They put us on the Tasman, a luxury liner, and we had the run of the ship. I finished up in Queensland, in Warwick, earning ten shillings a week in a café, learning everything up in the front. I had a brother in Scone. I was like one of these English bohemians. I would be up to anything. I tell you something very philosophical. I know a woman in Greece with nine children. Four died of diphtheria. That woman never bough a loaf of bread or got a pound of flour in her life. But there was always bead in the house. Where did it come from? That woman was my mother. She grew all her own wheat. No bulldozer or anything like that. That was my mother. My mother’s brother was Lord Mayor of Piraeus. My father used to go to America. Three trips. I have a daughter that works with the CSIRO in Sydney. She spent three years in Europe. My country Greece is a very poor country, but my daughter thinks it is the best country in the world and I can’t work it out. This is my daughter, a lovely looking girl, not what you call put together with bits and pieces as they say of bad pictures.
I worked at Warwick for about six months. Then all of a sudden, like a bolt out of the blue, they sent me to Stanthorpe. Stanthorpe in those days was nothing. You could fire a gun down the main street and you wouldn’t hit anything. I didn’t like it, and they kept me there. My uncle who sent me there in the first place, he had in interest in Bellingen in New South Wales, and he bought an interest in two shops in Tamworth, and I went there, and there I met my eldest brother that I hadn’t met since I came there because of conditions, economics. From there I worked. I was pretty good as a youngster working. There was a Greek in Boggabri, a good sort of guy, a kind-hearted man, and great racing man – horses – imagine a Greek following horses in those days – it’s very unusual, you know. He spotted me working in this oyster saloon with my older brother. I was fourteen or fifteen, my brother was twenty-one or twenty-two. And he spotted me and said, “Do you have any relations here?” I said, “Yes, my brother over there.” The he said to my brother, “I want to take your brother over to Boggabri.” My brother said, “Does be want to go?” The bloke said, “I’ll give him two quid a week.” That was over and above what a grown-up was earning. He was a racing man, a gambler. My poor brother he was earning twenty-five bob a week. And I was in short trousers. My brother didn’t know what to say. And I accepted and went up a couple of days later. I stayed with Theo about eight or nine months.
My brother and an uncle went to Goondiwindi, the Olympia café, and asked me to join them and I did. That was a very good business.
When I was about twenty-five or twenty-six I got married. I married an Australian girl off the stage. She was a ventriloquist, and I toured Queensland for many years with a carnival show. Then I started taxi-driving in Brisbane and chucked it whin I was sixty and started painting. When I was with the show I did a bit of singing. Good stuff. You wouldn’t call them classics. Not cheap stuff either. I sang “Macushla” once. That was a beautiful thing.
Money was hard in those days. I done a lot of money – just quietly, a thousand smackers, a lot of money for those days. I owned the show with my wife’s father. Her father was a great magician. He was a good man. I have been as far as Bourke, on the Darling. Bad country, you know. Timinburra is famous as the second greatest sheep station in the world. We bailed up there in the rainy weather and couldn’t get away. But the people were wonderful, so they put up all my company for a fortnight, fourteen of us, and at the finish we drove away without getting bogged. It could carry 172,000 sheep. I was going to paint that once. My first wife died a couple of years ago with cancer.
I paint a lot of horses because I like them and because people want pictures of horses. I was mad on horses when I was young – not racing, mind you.
Nothing in particular made me take up painting. I knew I could draw. I could draw when I was at school. The first painting I did in 1962 I gave to my doctor. It was no trouble. I just start working on it, using my imagination, you know, I never throw a picture away. I never got anything unframed. I finish a painting, then I frame it. A small painting takes at least two weeks. That is a lovely painting there. Do you see it? Birds of Paradise. You see the spearman behind it? Waiting to spear them? And the little hut there? It’s on swampy ground, of course. The larger paintings take a couple of months. I make a story up, somehow, you know. I do not think Greek icons in churches when I was a child have influenced my work. I want to put a bit more crudeness in it.
My cat is a famous cat you know. He is in a lot of paintings. They want him. He is about fourteen years of age. He has been painted dozens of times, you know, by request. Here is Douly on the Bank of the McIntyre. There was an exhibition about a year ago. There were big abstracts on the walls and that sort of things, and the only painting that sold was my cat.
Life is a funny thing, you know. It’s full of dreams. I’ve always been a dreamer. I was never satisfied with what I was doing, you know what I mean? Never satisfied, until I had a go at the next one. That’s how I finished up, other wise I’d been a very wealthy Greek. Follow me? My son was a great foot-runner, Peter Fardoulys. My eldest son was lost in the river in 1938, aged eleven, led in by another kid. My first wife was a beauty queen. She won a prize in Sydney, for long hair or something. She was a beautiful looking woman. I tell you who she resembled - Carole Lombard, those old stars. Her name was Gladys Elizabeth White. I did my money with the carnival because of bad weather. I did not get on too well with her people. They were bogged down in the old routine, the little country hall, you know, with houses worth about three quid. I had other ideas.
I like painting mountainsides. I like rocks. I like water. I always put water in my paintings. There’s not one without water in it. I was nearly drowned at the time of the cyclone here, three or four weeks ago. Fair dinkum. I was lucky. You might think it’s a joke to get drowned down here, understand? The wind blew me down on a Saturday morning at the height of the cyclone. I was going at half past nine to my grocery shop by the pub where the painting is. I always go inside with a couple of friends and have a couple of drinks and I always book a cab home. I never tackle without it. See? And the wind blew me down, turned my umbrella inside out and I couldn’t get up. You understand? And the street down here was like a river. Now what would I do there for half an hour? Luckily a young man spotted me. Some others spotted me and thought I was drunk. And when this fellow came along he lifted me up and said, “Will you be right now?” I said, “No, for God’s sake take me home.” I couldn’t stand up. I was finished. That’s very close to the Hell, you know. It’s unbelievable. That’s the first time in my life I got frightened about anything, right here at the bottom of this corner. I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t walk it. And if nobody had seen me, well, with my complaint, anything could happen. I could have smothered without breath. I was wet. My umbrella was blown inside out.
I always use a lot of sky. There’s a lot of green in my work. I never run dry – there’s always something seems to come somewhere. When I was driving taxis I didn’t see many paintings. I used to read about it – the Wynn Prize. After twenty-nine years of driving taxis I was a nervous wreck. There was no business then. I said I’ll get a pension now, see what I can do. I owned my own taxi for twenty years and I gave my licence away in 1971, and now they’re worth twenty thousand dollars. I had a terrific reputation. I knew all the prime ministers like I know you now, Bob Menzies, Chifley. I knew them all. My breathing has developed bad the last six or seven years. Around sixty-four they put me in hospital. Of course now it’s not getting any better. You know what I mean. I’m not getting any younger.
In the morning I’m better than at any other time. Claire goes to Church every morning. I do the place up the best I can. I like a bit of housework, do a bit of cooking that has to be done, clean up and sweep, and then I get on my stool over there, see and it’s a funny idea with me, I keep the night for thinking what will I go do to that painting today. You know the one I’m working on, I keep thinking about it the night before in bed. I even think of the colour I’ve got to use. I don’t have to think about it while I’m doing it. That painting of the Lord up there, that’s off that big painting of the atomic bomb. I couldn’t destroy that, you know. I had great faith in that painting. But nobody wanted it.
At school I learned English, French and Latin. In Greece our education is condensed, pressed in. No play between. There isn’t much play there. You do about seven or eight hours a day.
I was driving Menzies. He had his secretary with him. A bloke was coming along the road there. It was at the time of the yes and no vote, after the war. He was electioneering. Bob Menzies said, “Ask him if he wants a lift.” He got in. Menzies asked, “Where are you going? You look all played out.” “Oh yes,” he said, “I’m on the run, running away from the army.” Get it? He never said another word. He asked him a few questions. “You don’t like it eh?” When he got out at a little township, he said, “Thank you very much, boss.” Menzies said, “Come back here,” and put a quid in his hand and said, “Go and report to the unit as soon as you can. I’m the prime minister.”
I’m a great believer in the Lord as a human being. I paint over here on the veranda, in the corner. That’s the factory, right here. You don’t see any paint anywhere, do you? There’s not a spot on the wall, you know. I paint mostly out of the tube. I don’t dissolve my paint. I work with very small brushes. I have no palette. I squeeze from the tube to the brush. I work on two paintings at once sometimes. I get my frames made. They give me good service.
I used a donkey when I was a child as a taxi. I carried important people around on my donkey. I made more money on the island than I got in Warwick in wages. We would meet the boats. The town where I come from is in the centre of the island. There was a big competition. I was the little one, but I got my share because somebody wanted me. I was a well-known boy, good in school. My donkey was always dressed up, well dressed, you know. The passenger sits on a nice quilt. You might get five or ten bob for a trip. You could see Sparta from where I lived. You know the famous Spartans?
‘You know the famous Spartans’ appears to be the title of the piece.
James was a prolific letter writer to politicians, one of which was to Mr Opperman, Minister for Immigration, in 1964. Love his opening style:
‘Now Mr Opperman – listen carefully – I am from Greece, came about 1914….. Now go back Mr Oppenman and ask the attorney-general – and the Minister for the Interior to show you my correspondence this week….’
What chutzpah and verve!
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