It would be impossible for me to summarise the experience of watching the restoration and editioning of Sir Arthur Streeton’s unseen etchings unfold daily before me while still adjusting from one of life’s greatest transitions in our move to Queenscliff.
So, I’m going to leave it to this extract from Kate Legge’s story Into The Light – The Lost Streetons that was published in the Weekend Australian Magazine Nov 2016
“Like the bootlegged tapes of great musicians, even rough fragments by a dead genius tweak interest; the Queenscliff Gallery & Workshop’s duo of Theo and Soula can’t believe the fillip this project has brought them after bleak years spent managing Soula’s health after a fit ball she sat on at work burst, landing her smack on the concrete floor, damaging the biggest nerve in her pelvis. The accident shipwrecked their life as specialists took years to diagnose the source of her pain. “You think you’re going mad,” she says. “I couldn’t stand or sit in most appointments. I just wanted them to chop my coccyx off. I was suicidal. WorkCover was a nightmare. I’ve had zero assistance because my X-rays were perfect. Yet I felt as though I had a three-inch needle in my sacrum.”
A child of Cypriot migrants who came off a boat with coins in their pocket, Soula can’t remember a time when she didn’t draw or tinker, often while under the car with her mechanic father, handing him spanners or wrenches. Before her injury she painted a canvas a week. After the injury, “I couldn’t work – I would get paint out in the studio then it would dry.” She persevered, though.
A 2013 self-portrait was shortlisted for Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. When a diagnosis of pudendal neuralgia finally confirmed that signals from her pelvic nerve were triggering intense neuropathic pain, implants inserted in her lower spine scrambled the wiring to moderate her distress.
Drastic changes in lifestyle followed as the couple swapped inner city turmoil for a quieter rhythm, launching this small venture specialising in etchings, mezzotints and lithographs, so they could continue a creative beat. “I want to feel like I’m working, like I’m a part of something,” Soula says.
Born in Athens, Theo was a baby when his parents came to Australia. Younger than Soula, he does pretty Craft: Theo makes a print from one of the plates 18 the weekend Australian magazine much “everything” to spare her, quickly mastering a second-hand press that was delivered the day the fit ball punctured in 2007. “The best way to learn is if you’re thrown in at the deep end,” he says. “I’ve never studied how to curate, or run a gallery either.”
He’d given up mechanical engineering for marketing, but retained an affinity for gears and levers. A larger press they bought last year now hums at the hearth of their printmaking workshop, conjuring Streeton’s imagery into black and white.
“For months we couldn’t believe we were touching the plates, that we were entrusted with them,” Soula says. “We feel like we’re on this cloud. It’s as if we’ve done everything we could to keep going and this beautiful opportunity transpired.” Strangely, however, excitement cranks up the pain; it ebbs when spirits are low.
William Streeton was drawn to the couple’s venture partly because he knows what it’s like to start from scratch. “Having been there before many years ago… to help a little business, well, it’s no skin off our nose,” he says. Plus, there is a sense of Streeton coming full circle since the artist was born at nearby Mount Duneed, and briefly attended the Queenscliff primary school while his father was principal.
… Many proofs were discarded because of a mark or a smudge. “We treated them like national treasures,” he says. “It has been such an honour to be handling them. I don’t know if anything bigger than this will come around again.”