click to enlarge Susan and Inky

Pen and Ink
36 x 26.5cm
Collection: National Gallery Victoria

Limited edition Giclee archival prints of this painting are available for purchase. Paper size: 42.0 x 60.0 cm

My mother, the artist.

As a rather compliant child, I was happy to model for my mother. I recall sitting still for her and her artist colleagues in her studio at our Malvern home – no bribes. Just did as I was told.

Of course mum knew when to ask me to model especially if I was unwell, e.g. Lying in my bed sick, or happy to cuddle our cat Inky. This one was Inky no. 2

Perhaps having such a lovely drawing of me holding the cat in the deck chair reminds me how sad I was to have been asked to give the cat away because I was allergic to cats. But as I suffered from asthma, my parents would have been advised to find an alternative to cats. So Winky the budgie was the replacement.

Our home was a busy place. Perhaps mum was the most energetic and active of us all. Always inviting people over, entertaining over delicious meals in the dining room – she has always declared that she doesn’t like cooking much and would rather paint but you could have been fooled. Three course creative meals made without needing a recipe book and always a beautiful dessert to finish. We were always very well satisfied.

Around the table she encouraged conversation about cultural events, was most interested in world affairs and eagerly listened to my father’s and others opinions; she showed an interest in all her friend’s and other family members’ involvements.

‘Culture’ was and is her lifeblood – she often used to bemoan that Australia in the 1960’s had so little culture as we were growing up compared to her European homeland, particularly Vienna. That has certainly changed now. She shared a love of classical music with my father and many an evening was spent with records playing as my parents read The Age while we read books or did our homework. In recent years, she has missed listening to music as my father could no longer bear to hear music distorted horribly through his hearing aids. So she stopped listening for his sake.

But the mundane part of housework was happily left to others – as one of the original ‘Women’s Libbers’ she was happy to have someone clean the house each fortnight in the days before most women thought of such choices. She admired Germaine Greer for her outspokenness. And my father helped with some of the domestics eg washing dishes, and was always supportive of her art. She was indeed lucky. The painting Fountain of the Universal Housewife reflects lyrically on her views about women at home.

Susan Headlam