The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Cedric Flower

6 November 1979

James Gleeson: Cedric, we've got some of your designs for Sentimental Bloke, but I imagine there must have been many dozens of drawings and designs made for that production?

Cedric Flower: Oh golly, yes. Oh, there were scores and scores. Most of them are now in the Mitchell Library I fear.

James Gleeson: Are they?

Cedric Flower: Yes.

James Gleeson: That's what I wanted to ask you, where the rest are.

Cedric Flower: Well, I gave them all to the Mitchell Library before I knew you'd be interested, which is maddening.

James Gleeson: Anyway, at least we know where they are now.

Cedric Flower: Well, sure, yes. The actual backcloth designs, the designs that were actually done to have the backcloths executed from, Googie Withers has.

James Gleeson: I see. What other theatre productions did you do?

Cedric Flower: This was the first and only full-scale commercial musical production. The ones I did between 1940 and 1950 were all for the small theatre groups in Sydney. Golly, they ranged from everything from Moliere to Sean O'Casey.

James Gleeson: Done on a bit of a shoe string, I suppose?

Cedric Flower: Oh, a bit of a shoe string. We had 10 pounds, I think, to spend on every production. I used to con other people coming in to help me. Margaret Olley helped me paint many sets during those days.

James Gleeson: Good. Now, Cedric, I remember for most of your exhibitions I think of you as a draftsman using ink and watercolour. Also as a painter in oils, a large number of them are oils. But at one stage I remember an exhibition you did in, was it tempera or fresco technique?

Cedric Flower: Oh, yes. I don't know why I did that. I wanted to a series on the Trojan War after I came back from Greece. It seemed appropriate at the time. I discovered Fox Brothers had a marvellous thing that was used in England by many fresco painters. That is, you'd spray on board. You don't have to start with plaster, in other words, it's a plaster substitute that you spray on something like masonite. There's a special colour, a powder colour, which you mixed with water to go with it. This gives you that lovely dead affect of fresco without lugging about great big hunks of plaster. So that was my one venture in to that.

James Gleeson: That was a one-off show?

Cedric Flower: That was a one-off, yes.

James Gleeson: You've stuck with oil and watercolour, ink and water colour since?

Cedric Flower: Yes.

James Gleeson: Well now, one of the big bulk of your holdings in the National Gallery consist of I think 13 sketchbooks which seem to cover your wanderings a great deal throughout the world. Can you tell us something about the nature of those sketchbooks; how, why you kept them? Were they sort of pictorial diaries?

Cedric Flower: In a way they were diaries but I think mostly, from the earliest times, they were reference and notes for future more elaborate drawings or watercolours or ever oils. Some of these in the sketchbook, the more worked on ones, did end up as oil paintings.

James Gleeson: I see. So their character changed. Some were intended as preliminary studies for later development and some were just aid memoirs, notes (inaudible)?

Cedric Flower: Aid memoirs, or just memories of happy times like the Tilba ones which feature various friends I used to take down there for holidays and, just instead of snapshots I guess.


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