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Every picture tells a story

Driving out from painter Adrian Cave’s townhouse studio, English band 10CC’s Art For Arts Sake began to play on the car radio.

The coincidence was ironic because as Cave had said minutes earlier — although not in 10CC’s words — “money for God’s sake”, was never a motivation for him to paint.

He just loved the art of watercolour, the overseas travel in which he painted land and urban scapes in various locations and the fact there was always a story with each work.

A selection of Cave’s lifetime of watercolours, and possibly some very early oils, is now to be exhibited at Miharo Gallery from tomorrow. In the face of anything-goes, contemporary art, Cave’s plein air, on-location paintings could be viewed as old-fashioned but he was never part of a movement or trend, and he didn’t look to Europe for influences and artistic trends as many, mostly white, artists did right up to the 1980s.

“I never went to art school,” he says.

“I’ve been a full-time farmer all my life. Painting was only a hobby in those early days. We did a lot of trips overseas. They were always a lot of fun because I took my paints with me. I enjoyed going to places like Paris and Venice and setting up to paint.”

Among the many paintings in his studio is a scene of a street in Arles, France. After finishing his painting — he usually gives himself two to three hours at the easel to complete a piece — he walked up the road and visited Vincent van Gogh’s house.

Some similarities in his style can be seen in watercolours by Gisborne art teacher, the late Stan Bugden, the late Peter Williams’ oils and the late Graeme Mudge’s travel paintings, and his own plein air paintings of urban scenes.

“All my paintings are done on location,” says Cave.

“They all have stories attached to them.

“I was painting one day and Graeme came along on his bike and stopped and joked, ‘what are you doing here? This is my patch’.”

While the three men were Cave’s contemporaries, it was Williams who started Cave on his painting path.

“He got me a paintbox, oils and brushes and took me out to the Waipaoa. He obviously saw I had some talent and he encouraged me to paint. I watched him paint. I didn’t know anything about the mechanics of it so I watched. I’ve come a long way since then.”

After coming to terms with oil painting, Cave experimented with watercolours. Although he sold a few works, he found he was getting frustrated with the medium; packed his bags and headed for Melbourne where he took lessons under watercolourist David Taylor, whose influence is clearly seen in Cave’s work.

He and a group of artists stayed for two weeks at Taylor’s home, which is where Cave started to learn watercolour painting techniques.

“I got to know David well and we made about five trips overseas to paint.”

Now retired from farming and living in town, an online, worldwide watercolourists’ forum connects him with painters around the world. He is still learning his art, he says.

“An artist once said to me, ‘watercolour is easy when you don’t know anything about it. When you do learn a bit about it, it’s quite difficult.’”

In a painting of a Wanaka lakes scene at night, Cave adopted a technique used by an artist in Taiwan to create the effect of lit-up street lights.

“They’re difficult to paint in watercolour. It’s not as easy as the white blobs in oil paint.”

Among stories associated with each painting is the one in which Cave had finished painting a scene from a hill above the city of Prague. The hill offers a fantastic view of the city with all its churches, says Cave.

“I went up there to paint many, many times.”

One of those times presented a magical moment.

“This lovely music was coming from around the corner. I finished painting, packed up my gear and went for a look. A group of four men were playing guitars and singing. It was lovely.”

Although Peter Williams once joked that teaching his mate how to paint was the worst thing he could do because the competition meant he could never sell another painting in Gisborne, Cave says he never really tried to make a living from his art.

“I haven’t painted for that reason. The farm has been the number one priority. I paint for the pleasure it gives me and to go overseas and paint those places. Just about every painting I look at brings back memories.”

One such memory is of the day farming and art bumped into each other.

“I was painting on the side of the road at Waikaremoana,” says Cave.

“I was by myself and there was no other traffic. Two men came out of the bush and watched for a while. Then one said, ‘hey, does Dumpy still do your shearing?’”

An exhibition of Adrian Cave’s lifetime of painting will be held at Miharo Gallery, 118 Gladstone Road, for one week from tomorrow. The exhibition opens at 6pm tomorrow night.

EN PLEIN AIR: Having switched from oil painting to watercolour, Gisborne farmer and artist Adrian Cave has visited many overseas towns and cities, such as Venice (pictured) where he painted on location. Picture supplied