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The Summer Sun
Oil on Canvas, 30 x 40 cm
Please see contact details below to enquire about price
By Kelsey Edwards 28th April
Copyright HydraDirect 2016
William Pownall (Bill) was born in Manchester, England in 1935. One of his childhood memories was of being taken to the docks in Liverpool and seeing the container ships destined for countries far away. When you view Bill's work, you can see this influential memory quite clearly.
His family emigrated to Australia when he was fourteen. Bill studied at the National Art School in Sydney (painting and pottery). He was taught by Bernard Sahm and was influenced very strongly by the work of Bernard Leach. After his formal art training, Bill joined the army as Australian conscription was in force at that time. After three months of basic training (and continuing to be on standby for a further two years), he joined the George Patterson Advertising Agency in Sydney as their production manager in charge of colour control.
Whilst working at Patterson’s and still being obliged to be available for occasional army manoeuvres, Bill ‘gigged’ with a jazz band at various nightclubs. He had studied music (guitar) at a young age and when he met the jazz pianist, Bob Miller, in his early twenties he taught himself to play a double bass so they could form a jazz trio.
By this stage of his life, Bill felt that he needed to find a place where he could work and concentrate on his art. A musician friend had just returned from Greece when Bill was considering which direction he should take.
“So did you come straight to Hydra?” I asked.
“Not directly to Hydra,” Bill replied. “Everyone else was heading for Japan, the influence of Leach of course, but I was more interested in what was happening with pottery in Europe at the time.”
In the early 60’s it took thirteen weeks by boat to reach Piraeus (the main Athenian port) from Australia and initially Bill visited the island of Aegina. By all accounts, “it was the quality of the clay,” that influenced the destination.
Bill finally reached Hydra in 1963. On the advice of the advertising agent who’d given him a leaflet about Hydra, Bill introduced himself to Nikos Katsikas (Νικος Κατσικας) of the Katsikas General Store (which is now the Roloi Cafe). Hastily denying his UK heritage, Greece and England were not seeing eye to eye at the time, Bill was duly invited to come back at six that evening.
Having an Australian accent and being an artist aspiring to broaden his horizons was qualification enough to be ‘taken in’ to the back room of the store to be introduced to those of a similar ilk.
A slightly worse for wear group of people lounging around a scrubbed table, the ceiling festooned with birdcages, wicker baskets and all the assortment of goods that a general store had in those days, paused their conversation long enough to give him the once over, before George Johnston, author and fellow Australian, passed Bill the ‘Galoni’ (wicker covered flagon of red wine) so he could get up to speed as it were. In those days, the Katsikas General Store was where everyone congregated in the morning to await the arrival of the post on the supply ship and later in the evening for a pre-dinner drink before heading to the Douskos Taverna for food, more drink and frequent spontaneous music and song.
The Australian literary couple Charmian Clift and George Johnston, who had lived on Hydra since the mid-‘50s, were at the centre of a circle of artists who had established themselves on the island. And it was to this couple that Bill Pownall was introduced when he first arrived at Nikos Katsikas’ General Store in 1963.
Bill joined a cosmopolitan assortment of ex-pat artists who frequented the island, a group that included Sidney Nolan, Mungo MacCullum, Robert Owen, Peter Finch, Anthony Kingsmill, Allen Ginsberg, Norwegian author Axel Jensen and of course the singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen who also made Hydra his home in the mid 60’s.
In spite of the fragmentation of the initial creative group that Bill was introduced to in the early 60’s, Hydra’s shifting artistic environment, with its creativity, inspiration and camaraderie with fellow artists such as Dimitris Gassoumis, Bill Pownall was still inspired by what he saw to make his home in Hydra, which today he shares with writer Francesca Meks Taylor.
I first met Bill in 2000. His work had an immediate resonance and appeal but it has taken nearly two decades of contemplation to be able to put my finger on why!
Yes, Bill's work is described as modern or contemporary. And yes, some of his paintings are landscapes. He is referred to as an abstract artist. But to my mind and because over the years I have come to understand how Bill interprets what he sees around him, I have discovered more depth of meaning than simply to classify his genre as contemporary abstract.
Whereas I will quickly take a photo of the rowdy yellow margaritas that festoon Hydra's hillsides during the spring, my photograph just shows what everyone can see. Bill's painting, 'Spring Yellow' illustrates his ability to distil the essence of what is seen and explores the interaction of nature. You can sense the determination of these cheerful plants, depicted in his painting, to force their way forward from the barren and harsh landscape to clothe the rocks in an unruly riot of colour. He shows the interaction and communication between the elements of his paintings in a far more subtle and thoughtful way than a simple photograph can express.
Bill's book shows a range of his paintings from 1997 - 2013 (a must have for Hydra as well as Pownall fans). STILL ROUND, STILL RED for me communicates Bill's ability to capture the essence of the elements he observes around him with perfect brevity. Perhaps I can call him an 'essentialist' without offending Bill or those in the art world! A square, a circle and a triangle, but so much more than just shapes. You can see the sun burning, creating shadows of the mountains and it glinting off the white-washed walls of Hydra's cubic houses with their shallow roofs.
Bill communicates in a thoughtful and considered way. Even when contacting friends he still prefers to eschew technology, instead hand-writing and posting airmail letters and notes. His objection to ill-considered correspondence, in his view the result of too easy internet access causing people to rush out hasty messages, is reflected in his paintings many of which feature stamps and the distinctive airmail symbol. Even the boats he paints indicate not just what can be seen now but hark back to his earlier experiences and communicate his connection with where he has come from and the life voyages he and his admirers still can anticipate.
I have come to a better understanding of the 'messages' that Bill conveys with his art work. While photographing 'Spring Yellow' I happened to say, "This one really speaks to me". And Bill's reply, "Well ... you develop a language with art".
If you would like to meet Bill and see his work with a view to buying a piece, he welcomes pre-arranged appointments at his studio overlooking Hydra harbour. (Please see Contact below to arrange.)
Bill's book covering some of his paintings from 1997 - 2013 is available to purchase by mail order 'direct from the artist'.
80 pages of beautifully photographed and reproduced works for you to enjoy.
Copyright 2014 William Pownall
Edited by Heiner Georgsdorf
Published by Hydra Press Ulm
Graphic Design by designbueromaus.de
Photographs by Dan Gunn, Denise and Asimi Magirakis
Produced by muttscheller.com
Cost: €30 plus postage and packing (€6 - €12 depending on address)
Please see Contact below to place an order.
William Pownall, PO Box 35, Hydra, Greece, 18040
Only between 09:00 - 10:00 in the morning or 17:00 - 21:00 in the evening (local Greece time please).
Telephone: +(30) 22980 53894
As mentioned above, Bill does not use email. However, as a friendly service, I am happy to receive (non-personal) emails using the form below, which I will print and hand-deliver to Bill at his studio. I am also happy to reply once Bill has scripted a response. Please note that it may take a couple of days for me to reply on his behalf.
If you want a reply either by post, phone or mail, please ensure you enter your full details correctly.
For book orders, it is imperative that you provide a full postal address. Bill can only accept payment for books or paintings by bank deposit/transfer or in cash at his studio. Account details will be forwarded with replies to enquiries/orders.