Making films in these improbable times is a challenge and understandably APV have not produced anything in their usual format. This tribute to Australian artist Bob Wade was originally planned to coincide with his 90th birthday, but the interviews were curtailed by strict lockdowns in Melbourne, where he lives.
Celebrations are often really only of interest to the subject themselves, and maybe those who take part and hope for a little reflected glory. This, however, is sensitively done and made with a broader audience in mind. At its core is an extended interview with Bob, who reminisces about a life devoted in one way or another to art. His greatest love is watercolour and his eyes sparkle like a luminescent painting as he talks about “the surprise and wonderment and magic that suddenly appear before your eyes”. Of what he calls visioneering, he adds, “[It’s] seeing with your brain, feeling with your eyes and understanding with your heart”. Can you come up with a better definition of both the physical and mental process of creating a piece of art? Thought not.
Interspersing this are tributes from many of Bob’s Australian contemporaries, who manage to say a great deal more than “he’s a wonderful artist”. “Underlying everything is sound, honest watercolour technique”, says Herman Pekel. The aside, “Bob is a storyteller”, is perhaps the greatest truism in the whole film.
To make sure the film isn’t just talking heads and still images, extracts from some of Bob’s classic demonstrations are included. These do not, it should be said, add new unseen material, but they do add a gloss to the words and remind us of Bob’s working methods.
As I implied, films like this can be dry as dust and self-congratulatory. This is neither and is gripping from start to finish. Much of that is down to Bob’s character. His joy in his medium is always evident and it’s enthralling to hear him talking about it more generally than he would in a specific demonstration. The tributes are heartfelt and it’s clear that he is a man genuinely loved by his fellow artists, as well as students throughout the world.