You’d expect the walls of a country pub to be decorated with sporting memorabilia or old photos – and, to a large extent, Castlemaine’s Bridge Hotel, in regional Victoria, is just like that.
But on the wall, in the back room, hangs a striking abstract work of art.
“You don’t have to dumb things down,” says publican Pat Furze.
“You want pubs to feel pretty approachable. You want people to walk in, in their work boots, and feel relaxed – so I tend to decorate the pub with old memorabilia. But it doesn’t mean you can’t elevate the pub with an artwork that’s really stunning and interesting.”
The artwork is called Untitled, by Melbourne artist and AFL great Nicky Winmar.
“The response to the work from staff and customers has been overwhelmingly positive,” Furze says.
“I’m an avid Aussie rules fan – not St Kilda, I’m North Melbourne. But Nicky is one of those players in his career who transcended the parochial rivalries of teams. He became such a loved player on the field and then a cultural figure off the field. Everyone really loves him. You see it when he walks down the street, people gravitate [towards him] and want to have a chat. [For] anyone over 35, he’s a household name to anyone that loves the game.”
But it is Winmar’s art – mainly abstract work – that really caught Furze’s attention, leading the publican to buy Untitled via Winmar’s Instagram account. “Nicky’s been painting for years – and it’s only the last couple of years that he’s taken it on as his main vocation.”
“He’s such an interesting painter. I collect art here and there – mainly for home, sometimes for the pub. Nicky’s work is inspired a lot by his upbringing in WA, places he knew as a child, inspired by the Dreaming, but he’s also inspired by the major abstract expressionists. You do see a bit of Jackson Pollock in it. From talking to him, that’s been one of his biggest influences.”
There is a recognisable style to Winmar’s work, with its rich colours and thickly applied paints, Furze says.
“If you are living with it – if it’s in your house, sitting above your table – you can get something from it on different occasions, it can grow with you.”
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On a grey day in Castlemaine, the work gives the room a bit of colour, warmth and action. “The black and the red – the background is split almost like an upside-down [Aboriginal] flag. The chaos is all in the white – in the foreground,” Furze says. “It just feels balanced to me.”
“The Winmar is a really chaotic painting, and some people would look at it and find that it’s too much. It’s like being at a hectic party. But I find a lot more peace in it.”