An exhibition by solo artist, Leo Wimmer.
I was born in Austria in 1937 and still have vivid memories of my childhood, particularly my youth during the Second World War and the Occupation of Austria which followed. At a young age I had wonderful fantasies and was drawing, painting and dreaming of taking my passion on to tertiary education. However, as that was not a possibility I became apprenticed as a Church Painter, including frescoes. gilding, wood carving and faux finishing (decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone) to a very experienced Master in this trade. This pushed my passion for creativity deeper. As a young man, whose country was in tatters, and whose people were trying to pick up their lives, I could not see a future there.
In 1955 aged 18 I migrated alone to Australia, with only a smattering of English. From Bonegilla Migrant Camp, to Redcliffe grape picking in January heat, being a red head, my face and arms were soon covered in blisters. Dr Suggested I take a night train to Geelong. I landed on the train station there in the middle of the night, was sleeping on a bench, when a nice policeman said “hey, you can’t sleep their sonny” and took me to a men’s boarding house opposite the Geelong Football Ground. My first job was as a spray painter at Ford Motor Company, I then graduated to Godfrey Hurst Woolen Mill, until finally I found a job as a Painter and Decorator. Australia is such a different country to Austria, that I was soon painting landscapes, animals, and nature vastly different. The skies fascinated me, as did the ocean. The light in Australia was so much brighter than in Austria. My boss had a large team of qualified young gun painters and accepted a huge contract to paint the entire outside of the Ararat Mental Hospital (an 8 month undertaking). Whatever each man in the team had talent for he did that one job for 8 months. (eg hanging under eaves in a bosun chair painting all day). Because of my artistic experience, I had a very fine straight hand, so painted probably thousands of frames of small glass window panes!.
So now I got to see real country Victoria. It was at the Ararat Mental Hospital (later named Aradale, and which no longer exists) where I met my lovely wife, Glenys, became a naturalized Australian, produced three gorgeous daughters in Ararat, and we have had an abundantly blessed and courageous life together, so far for 58 years.
Over these early years I successfully undertook a course in Commercial Art at night school. My passion for art and woodcraft continued to flourish, as well as an interest in many forms of restoration. I started a Painting and Decorating business, employing apprentices, becoming well known in the Western District. Soon people were bringing diverse articles for me to restore – as well as continuing to paint pictures, expanding my use of all mediums and styles I have never stayed with one medium or style but rather led by passion to always try something different. It is still like that today. The exception to this has been Icon Writing – this is for me a spiritual passion which brings me deep joy, and I will continue to do this as long as I can hold a paint brush!.
In 1977 we sold our home and vehicles, and with our family, flew to Austria for three years. I studied Art Restoration for two years, which also included painting many and varied well known European paintings, in order to learn all their techniques, thus enabling me to restore such paintings. This was an amazing experience. I was also working part time (voluntarily) in the restoration studio of a highly regarded Viennese Restorer who offered considerable respect for my abilities and trusted me with extremely valuable work.
I was fortunate to be accepted as a Guest Student in the Master Class of the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna for the duration of these 3 years. I was not required to attend class, but Prof. Wolfgang Hutter, Director of Master Class, would set me assignments and we met fortnightly. This was very engaging and enriching for me. He was one of the best Fantastic Realism painters in Europe in his time. Slowly his work was making an impression in what I was painting and on returning home I continued for some time “under his powerful creative influence”.
However, eventually I began to sink more into our own Australian culture and began diversifying again with mediums and subjects.
On weekends in Vienna I would take one of each of my girls to a gallery and we would spend hours talking and just sitting and looking. I am so grateful for this unique opportunity to introduce them to such fine art. I then would take myself off with my sketch book, sketching many of the buildings that make Vienna the beautiful European city that it is, then later water colored the sketches.
Early in our time in Vienna my wife was successful in obtaining employment with the United Nations (UNIDO) – a job she cherished, working with people from all corners of the world. Many of her European colleagues were delighted to purchase many of the European paintings that I was producing throughout my course.
On our return to Australia in 1980 I was employed at the Australian National Gallery, Victoria for two years as Conservator, as well as undertaking private restoration work, and continuing my painting. In 1982, 5 months before the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra was due to open, I was “head hunted” into a Conservator position where I worked predominantly on very old European and Australian frames – my earlier training enabled me to caste molds and carve replacement corners and decorations, then regild the frame. Sometimes I crafted period frames entirely for a special work of art.
During this time I was privately restoring paintings and continuing painting many beautiful scenes and buildings in and around Canberra. I was also conducted Icon Writing Courses.
After 10 years at the NGA we moved to Mount Beauty where I continued to paint, and also offered residential week long courses in Icon Writing, Carving and Gilding, taking participants up into the High Country to paint scenes from that area. Over the years I was commissioned to write various Icons, icons using genuine antique techniques.
We retired to Malua Bay on the NSW South Coast, continuing to pursue my painting passion, still changing mediums and subjects, relishing the freedom to do so in such a magnificent environment.
We now live in Sale in Victoria, and strangely feel I have come full circle since leaving Victoria for Vienna 42 years ago. The influence from Prof Hutter faded away over time on my return, and I produced diverse paintings, always trying many new things, but not experiencing real satisfaction. However, these past 2 years I have passionately experienced a drive to an entire new sphere, arriving at the realisation that what I was introduced to in Vienna had touched my subconscious and I now find my spirit lights up with fantastic ideas and my own style has emerged – must emerge! I deeply feel I have travelled full circle with my paintings and found myself. Such a wonderful feeling.
Since 1961 have sold paintings, icons and woodcraft, from my home studio. These now hang in most States in Australia, in private homes, in churches, in Nursing Homes and public buildings, and of course in Austria. I have also painted murals in the high county, in nurseries, kindergartens, in private homes and hospitals.
I feel very privileged to conduct my first ever Exhibition here in the Yarram Court House Gallery in Gippsland, and thank the Committee for placing their trust in my work. I have appreciated the Committee’s companionship, advice and assistance on this stage in my life’s abundant journey.