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James Fardoulys’ paintings are treasures of heritage

WHEN most people retire they might tinker at a favourite hobby — golf perhaps, fishing or a bit of watercolour painting. Not James Fardoulys.
When, in 1960, the former Brisbane taxi driver retired at the age of 60, “he painted non-stop for 16 years”, his son Peter Fardoulys says.
A new exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery brings together 40 Fardoulys paintings, many of which have not been publicly displayed before.
“His way of painting was child-like, simple and direct. It was unmediated by the world,” says Peter, now 80.
His father painted straight from the tube, without blending colours and using very small brushes.
“I work for depth and clarity as far as the eye can see,” he once said. “You must be able to see all the detail, even from a distance. There is no haze in my paintings.”
Born in 1900 in Kythera, Greece, James Fardoulys came to Australia in 1914.
“The economy on the island was very poor,” Peter says. “He never saw his parents again.”
James initially went to Warwick, then for the next 12 years worked in cafes in Queensland and NSW and also on farms and sheep stations.
In 1925 he married a ventriloquist, Gladys Knight, and they had two boys and two girls.
They settled in Goondiwindi until 1931 when the Olympia Cafe, which they were running, was destroyed by fire. The family then moved to Brisbane, where James worked as a taxi driver for 29 years.
Peter says: “In the 1930s he used to have an Oldsmobile and after school and on Saturdays I would go with him to keep him company. I think it was a comfort to him, because my brother drowned in the Brisbane River when I was eight. I almost drowned, too.
“(When I was growing up), I didn’t realise my father had that ability (to paint in the naive style). He didn’t talk about it, he just did it. He started to paint for competitions, and then began winning art prizes.”
His father believed passionately in his art, and took these wins in his stride.
At the time of his joint first prize at the 1964 Warana-Caltex Queensland Art Competition for The Story of the Nativity in the North-West No. 2, he said it was “the only time I have had an open exhibition with open honest judges — I got first prize. Therefore I have been robbed 17 times by corrupt administrators. Sir [sic] Missingham and Sir [sic] James Gleeson both black-balled me.”
Then Courier-Mail art critic Dr Gertrude Langer, one of the judges of that competition, was an enthusiastic supporter of his work.
She wrote in 1966: “Fardoulys has the wonderful innocence and intensity of vision characteristic of the genuine artists of the people . . . an instinctive sense of sequence, rhythm and balance give his work a charming decorativeness.”
Another supporter was humourist Barry Humphries, who bought a work called The land of Milk and Honey and later commissioned a portrait of himself for the cover of his 1968 book The Barry Humphries Book of Innocent Australian Verse.
Peter, who became an engineer, initially didn’t think much of his father’s paintings of outback scenes and animals.
“I liked straight lines and correct perspectives,” he says.
But, he admits, they have grown on him. Now the family is trying to buy back as many as they can, because “we feel it’s our heritage”.
“Every painting has a story,” he says. “You only have to look at them.”

James Fardoulys: A Queensland Naive Artist, Queensland Art Gallery, starts Saturday until June 20.

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