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Arts

Nick Osmond – Painter of the Moree Plains

A degree in classical literature, a nursing qualification and decades of experience as a country gardener may seem like an unusual background for a painter. However, in the case of Nicholas Osmond it seems highly appropriate. His diverse collection of credentials, including jobs in probation and parole, the disability sector, pathology, and the Green Corps, brings a wealth of humanity and historical and literary references to his paintings.

Nick, who calls Moree home, has been painting for just two years, having taken it up while recuperating from a persistent leg injury. His remarkable ability has already been acknowledged with an invitation to exhibit at the highly regarded Olsen Irwin Gallery in Woollahra.

After initially trying painting and pottery courses at TAFE, he was encouraged by artist James Kearns, and simply copied some of his favourite artists. This led to him taking inspiration from historical photographs in the books of Aboriginal elder Noelene Briggs-Smith OAM, a close friend and highly regarded local Aboriginal historian. What started as an interest has quickly advanced to a prolific output of inventive portraits of characters from the northwest of New South Wales.

Nick describes himself as an intuitive painter, working on up to three paintings a week during the evenings. His days are spent in the great outdoors gardening or working at the Fork and Spade Nursery. Afternoons are spent with his daughter Sophie, and he shares his pre-WWI weatherboard house (an ex priest’s rectory) with two very affectionate Rhodesian ridgebacks, Tally and Pearl. His painting style could be described as primitive or naïve, but this belies his understanding and knowledge of art history, and his intentions as an artist. A deep need to communicate along with his natural cerebral stimulation drives his practice.

Among his personal motivations is the sense of separation he feels when out on the long highways of the northwest. Often he will make three-hour round trips for his gardening job, driving highways and back roads to visit clients, observing the landscape, the ever-changing light and the people he encounters. Nick emphasises that this is born out of his parents’ understanding of the bush and the inherent philosophy of life that his rural upbringing carries, including respect for Aboriginal culture. The maximised use of flat colour and cultural iconography are important features of Nick’s work.

The Osmond family are themselves true characters from the bush. Nick’s father, Bruce (1931–2011), grew up in Newcastle and eventually went into cinema management at Orange in the 1950s. He worked as a jackaroo for the Australian Agricultural Company starting near Mt Isa, eventually managing the 32,000-acre property of ‘Ballerang’, 40 kilometres west of Mungindi. Nick’s mother, Carolyn, grew up in Pymble, and after finishing up at Ravenswood Girls School, took up a governess position on a property between Bourke and Wilcannia before she met and married Bruce. She rode as a jockey at country racetracks in her younger days and now owns and manages the Fork and Spade Nursery in Moree. Two of Nick’s three brothers, Will and Toby, owned and managed a nightclub called ‘Will & Toby’s’ in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst in the mid-2000s, while their other brother Simon remained in Moree to work in the nursery. Toby has since returned to Moree to be co-director of Yaama Ganu Gallery.

Nick and his brothers boarded at the convent in Mungindi when in primary school, and then at the Marist Brothers College in Lismore. His high school years (1980-1985) in Lismore gave Nick an enlightening experience, providing him with access to contemporary literature and exposure to the counterculture coterie in and around Lismore.

His arrival as a painter in mid-life is underpinned by vivid memories of growing up in the bush. These memories contain a wealth of imagery and knowledge about northwest New South Wales. Among his many subjects are the Light Horse Regiment (the Moree district was a rich recruiting ground with many experienced horsemen among the graziers and stockmen), and figures from sport, rock music, politics and literature. Most of all he delves into the characters of the Moree Plains, including the Aboriginal community, stockmen and farmers. His broader themes encompass the depopulation of the bush and the changes wrought through broadacre farming and diminishing traditions around animal husbandry.

Of particular interest is his focus on women in the district, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Nick’s friendship with Noelene Briggs-Smith OAM has provided him with a strong connection into local Aboriginal lives, along with expert advice about the history of the community. Noelene has published two extensive illustrated volumes of history on the Aboriginal families of Moree.

His favourite historical artists include Edvard Munch, Sidney Nolan, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh along with the post-Impressionists, pre-Cubists and German artists between the wars. More contemporary influences include Leon Golub (USA) and the work of Adam Cullen.

Nick’s first solo exhibition was held in Narromine in 2015, and sold 11 works. Subsequently, he has exhibited with local artists in the Beneath Big Skies exhibition at the Moree Town and Country Club in early April 2016, and he was included in the Equus group exhibition at Olsen Irwin Gallery in Woollahra. Current paintings may be viewed at www.instagram.com/nicholasosmond.

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