THE sleepy little town of Silverton in outback NSW really comes alive when the sun nears the horizon, either in the morning or afternoon.
What almost looks like a deserted ghost town in the harsh light of day suddenly transforms into an exciting landscape full of iridescent colours which release a new lease of life into the town’s old stone buildings.
It’s these typical yet brilliant outback colours that Silverton-based artist John Dynon grew up with... and it’s also these outback colours that are so perfectly captured when John puts paint on canvas.
John Dynon’s gallery is just a stone’s throw from the Silverton Hotel. It’s the corrugated shed with the brightly coloured Volkswagen Beetle out the front. You’ll find John there, seven days a week, behind the counter, either working on a new piece or knocking back a coldie. After all, he happily describes himself thus: “I’m the unofficial mayor, sheriff and town drunk. But I’m really the town drunk,” he laughs.
Don’t let John’s jovial and relaxed demeanor put you off too much; he really is one of Australia’s most accomplished artists, with his works in collections throughout Australia and the world. His famous ‘emu’ art has even appeared on 780,000 XXXX cans, which was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St Patricks Race Day in Broken Hill, NSW, in 2015.
In fact, it was in Broken Hill that John was born in 1954, and from the day he could hold a pencil he was obsessed with drawing on things.
“I just loved drawing,” says John. “I always drew. Everything I did when I was a kid, I’d draw on everything. I got in a lot of trouble for drawing on things I wasn’t supposed to draw on.
“When I was at school, I picked up paints and splattered them all over the wall in my first year at school, and that’s when I was nearly expelled, because I wanted to brighten up the classrooms.
“Then, when I went to high school, I wouldn’t do any classes apart from art. I’d buggerise around in every class, I’d upset the whole class, I’d get kicked out, I’d get caned every day, but the art class was the only one [in which] I’d sit down and do things.”
John’s disruptive behaviour was not appreciated by his headmaster and he soon found himself facing expulsion… until his art teacher leapt to his defence.
“My art teacher said ‘Leave him in my art class, because he’s perfect with me, he loves his art, and I’ll look after him’,” explains John. “Then we went back down to the classroom... he grabbed me by the bloody shirt and said ‘You smartarse little bastard, if you don’t become an artist you’re going to be useless...’ And he came back here 30 years later, saw what I was doing, shook my hand, gave me a big cuddle and said ‘I knew you were going to be an artist’.”
Before becoming a full-time artist, however, John did his time in the Broken Hill mines. “At 19 I started on the mines, working underground,” he says. It was around the same time that John’s wife Debbie bought him a set of oil paints and told him ‘if you can sketch, you can paint’. And paint he did! John worked underground for 15 years and at the end of each shift he would spend eight or so hours painting.
If you’ve spent some time in and around Silverton, you’ll no doubt sense a familiarity when examining many of John’s paintings, especially those that depict scenes in the nearby Mundi Mundi Plains and Barrier Ranges. It’s in these landscapes that John so accurately captures the outback colours, of earth and sky, no matter the time of day.
“The colours? I reckon they’re all just natural colours, because out here they all just seem to be bluer blues and redder reds… ” says John. “Sometimes I don’t even look out there; it all comes out of my head. But it is out there if you want to look. I’ve been looking at it all my life, so 62 years of looking at it, I’ve got to know something.”
John also spends a fair bit of time around Menindee Lakes (shallow, ephemeral freshwater lakes), and there are always plenty of fascinating water scenes hanging on the walls of his gallery. And then there are his paintings of native flowers. “All the flowers are from around here. I’m a keen gardener, I love gardening,” he says.
Look closely and you’ll see various repeated yet strangely unintentional themes in many of John’s paintings, such as seven birds and two rabbits in nearly all of the landscapes. Where do these come from? “I don’t know,” admits John. “I never even knew I was putting them in until someone actually noticed that every painting in the gallery had two rabbits and seven birds, and I thought, shit, there they are...”
As for his comical emus, John certainly isn’t the only artist in outback NSW, or even Silverton, who has a penchant for painting the famous flightless bird. “I used to sell me mates emus up the hill, Peter Brown,” says John. “I wanted to get souvenirs and things of his emus, and he wouldn’t do it. And he said why don’t you paint your own emu... well that’s where it all started, and when I did it, I never looked back.”
Another favourite subject of John’s is corrugated iron, which makes a prominent appearance in a number of his paintings, no matter what the main subject is. “I just love it,” he says. “I love rust and I love tin.”
John paints with acrylics on canvas boards, the latter specially made for him in Sydney. “The boards have been treated for acids and all that sort of stuff, and they’ve really been made for me to put under glass. I like things under glass because they’re in a safe box forever,” he says.
There are even a few abstract pieces with John’s distinctive signature in the bottom right-hand corner. “If I do abstract... I just splatter paint and, mate, they sell like hotcakes,” enthuses John. “They’re pallet paintings, they’re done with the wasted paint. Every night I’ve got paint left, I put it on a board, because I don’t like wasting anything...”
There are paintings to suit just about every budget in John Dynon’s Silverton gallery, and he also sells prints, cards and souvenirs. And for those after something specific, John is happy to paint by request. If you can’t make it out to the tiny town of Silverton, John also sells his art online. “I exhibit a bit in cities, but not much... I’m sort of semi-retired,” he says. “We’ve got a shop online and all that... but most of the stuff we sell through this gallery; we get about 100,000 people a year through here.”
The next time you’re in Silverton make sure you drop in on John Dynon, even if you’re not in the market for an artwork. He’s always up for a chat... and maybe even a beer. After all, he is the unofficial mayor, sheriff and town drunk.