Last Saturday at 3.18pm I was looking at Dusty. His left armed fend-off, tattooed limbs, ball tucked under his right arm. None could get close to him. Play on! gestured the umpire.
The game was about to go our way.
Dustin Martin was in the middle of the MCG running amok, mesmerising everyone – one man in the eye of a storm, time stopped, like a puppeteer pulling all the strings.
Last Saturday at 3.18pm I wasn’t at the game, but in a rear room of the Australian Galleries on Derby Street, Collingwood, looking at the art of Nick Howson, an oil on Belgian linen, titled Dusty premiers. It is beautiful, in its colours, its playfulness, in the long lope of Trent Cotchin in the foreground, in all the faces of the crowd, and is that Bachar on the bench?
Last Saturday at a gallery in Collingwood I called the artist and admonished him for not inviting me to the opening (he said he did, said there must have been a mix-up in the mail-out), and congratulated him on the show, and said his painting of last year’s Grand Final ought to be hanging at the MCG. I said I would contact the curator at the MCC on his behalf.
This is a painting of significant public importance. It is about place, social participation, culture, belonging.
We talked briefly about the theme of his new show, Suburbia, its muted colours, the patterned repetition, all those red hipped rooflines, quarter acre blocks, conformity. I said the motif reminded me a bit of Howard Arkley’s art, but without the day-glo vibrancy. This is more understated. Modest. Introverted.
Was it last year I was in his studio behind a shopfront on Swan Street in Richmond and saw these works progressing? Back then we talked about football, and place, and the visual cues of Richmond, and I remember him enthused about “all the red bricks, the red dirty bricks” of his neighbourhood. A redbrick Federation-era factory wall is an object of beauty. As are the suburban brick veneer dreams of Nick’s latest series.
I desire them.
Last Saturday I was to ride my bicycle to Collingwood to the opening of a friend’s art exhibition on Cambridge Street, and then go and see Nick’s work, and then pop into the football. But a cloudburst, hailstones drumming on the roof, changed plans.
And I called-up a friend, Josh, an American, from Washington DC, a remarkable chess player, who was at a loose end. Said I’d pick him up in the car, by the Church Street Bridge. Let’s go see some art.
Nick Howson is a Collingwood fan who’s probably best known in Melbourne for the large mural he painted of a long-sleeved Richmond footballer, flying over all the petty squabbles and sawtooth factory rooves of old Struggletown, adorning a wall beside the main entrance to Richmond Station. It ought to be heritage-listed, preserved forevermore.
On Saturday afternoon we spoke about Collingwood’s fabulous win on the Friday night – they were inspired, did you see the Brodie Grundy goal, how far he ran? – and Nick asked if I’d seen the score in the Richmond game. I hadn’t. He said the Lions had yet to kick a goal.
I said it was time I better go.
Back to the car. Quick stop on Langridge Street to take a photo of Dusty’s No. 4 painted on the roller door of a mechanic’s garage. Right onto Hoddle Street. An awkward conversation with Josh (do you mind terribly if I dropped you off at Richmond Hill, etc). I had a game to be at.
Last Saturday afternoon I ran to the ground, got there huffing and puffing, stood under the concourse on a wing, took it all in, all the grass, the wide expanse of green, the players running here and there, and shafts of bright autumn light, then sheets of light rain, and saw Dylan Grimes running back with the flight of the ball to spoil a marking contest beside their goal square. The desperation. A quest. We hold no malice to the Brisbane Lions, old Fitzroy, but all of us at that ground on Saturday afternoon, seated sparsely in the open, huddled under the rooflines, wanted to keep them goalless.
This is what happens when yours is the best team.
You find other ways to set a challenge.
And on Saturday at the MCG, this afternoon like no other – I cannot remember another game like it – was punctuated with the exclamation mark of Dusty’s last goal.
A run, that chest of his puffed out, a sidestep, snapping on his left, the Punt Road end, the delirium of the crowd. Nothing thrills us so much as a player like him, running in space, with all his confidence and pomp.
This coming Saturday, Richmond are not playing. Nor on the Sunday.
It is the last weekend of Nick Howson’s exhibition, a last public viewing of his Dusty.
Get along, go! Go see the garage door on Langridge Street, also. If you know anyone with deep pockets, a love of art, and a love of Dusty, tell them they must see it. The price tag? $12,500.
I can only dream. But dreams can take you anywhere.
Go Tiges! Go Nick Howson, you beauty!
Australian Galleries, 35 Derby Street Collingwood
Open daily 10am-6pm
Exhibition closes this Sunday.