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Vantage points

29 May 2019

Vantage points Image

By Meg Hill

Arthur Ted Powell has almost 100 sketchbooks of Melbourne’s development over the past decade.

There are much bigger collections of various other sketches he’s done over the years, of whatever was in front of him during his free time.

It started when he was working in advertising in Asia.

“Rather than going out and eating every night I made my own little post-cards with watercolours and painted them and sent them to my family,” he said.

“That progressed into sketch books, wherever I was and if we were filming TV commercials or something, in the downtime I’d spend scribbling in sketchbooks and filling those up.”

Now, some of his panoramic sketchbooks are held by the State Library’s rare book collection, and by the Melbourne and Port Phillip municipal councils.

His sketches imprint visual information in his memory, allowing him to later paint the subjects when they’re no longer in front of him, and without looking at the sketches.

But that’s not the best bit ­– his looming paintings of Melbourne’s cityscape are often from a perspective above the skyscrapers.

There’s no photographic help. Powell sketches what he sees from the street and later imagines what it looks like from the sky.

On May 25 at the Library at the Dock he gave a talk and workshop to a group of people interested in sketching. When sketching Docklands, he asked them not to draw what was in front of them, but what they imagined it would look like in the future.

“I always had an interest in architecture and part of my art school days were studying architects,” he said.

“So, I guess there’s that distant sort of relationship with architecture even though I get sort of frustrated with what’s happening and some buildings that are very interesting.”

Powell, although having lived overseas for more than a decade, has owned a house in South Melbourne over 40 years – watching the city grow around him.

Before that he lived in his native England. He scored his first job in 1968 while at art school, working part-time on the 90-minute Beatles’ animated movie Yellow Submarine.

Perhaps it’s that kind of training that allows his mind to move around spatially and grasp a perspective he has never physically seen.

Mr Powell said the Eureka tower was an example of a building that he liked. He told Docklands News most people didn’t know the design of the tower was based on the Eureka Stockade, and the surveyor’s measure created the window structure.

“I put a show together three years ago that focused on it.”

“The gold glass at the top is a reference to the goldfields, and the red stripe is a symbol for the blood that was lost at Eureka.”

Two of his paintings around the building are now sitting in the Fender Katsalidis boardroom and in Karl Fender’s apartment.

Some of his sketchbooks were displayed at the library at the end of May, as well as a painting.

But it’s hard not to see Powell’s growing body of work on inner city Melbourne as one big artwork that changes and adapts as the city itself does.

His panoramic books that were bought by the State Library are from vantage points he will revisit to redraw them, to chart the way the city has changed.

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