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Clifton Pugh

Think of John Brack, or Fred Williams, and without effort or prompting a painting will come to mind. These names conjure up Brack’s urban figures with their blank yet expressive faces, or Williams’ minimalist landscapes. Instantly recognisable, they could have been painted by no one else. Yet their makers have never been celebrities. Brack’s Collins St, 5p.m. is more widely known than Brack the painter. Fred Williams always seemed too absorbed in his work to turn his face to the public. A portly figure in a suit, he was no one’s image of an artist. Arthur Boyd, so one of his friends wryly remarked, ‘sometimes backed shyly into the limelight’, but he was happiest away from the public gaze. Although the popular acclaim of the Ned Kelly paintings might well have obscured their creator, Sidney Nolan was tough and confident enough to emerge into a blaze of publicity (expertly kindled by John and Sunday Reed) and to withdraw when he pleased.

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Unstill Life by Judith Pugh & Self-Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by Irena Sibley

May 2008, no. 301

Marry an artist? Never! So I always thought, and reading these autobiographies does nothing to change my prejudice. Married to artists, both Judith Pugh and Irena Sibley spend a good deal of their time cooking and, even more, socialising. Not that they mind. Judith declares that ‘cooking was my deep pleasure’, essential to the story of her life with Clifton (‘Clif’) Pugh. Irena concedes facetiously, ‘it’s too hard painting pictures. It is easier to bake cakes.’ The importance of food is apparent in the chapter titles. Eleven of Sibley’s chapters refer to food, while all of Pugh’s have subheadings that, typically, jumble up evocative ingredients.

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