Art

Spirit of SA art exhibition showcases state’s people, places and icons to support children with cancer

Among the lovelier lyrics in Don McLean’s song about Vincent van Gogh are those that refer to “faces lined in pain” being “soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand”.

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Something of that tender spirit is reflected at Mark Lobert’s Port Adelaide studio, where, for the past few months, an impressive act of artistic altruism has been taking shape.

“Hopefully we’ve done SA proud because we’re very proud of this collection,” Lobert said when describing the project.

Painting is a painstaking business, but these portraits and landscapes are about alleviating pain —specifically, the pain of very sick children.

Collectively, the 42 canvases will comprise the Spirit of SA exhibition, and they depict prominent South Australian faces, places and icons.

A painting of the Granite Island to Victor Harbor horse-drawn tram.
The Granite Island horse-drawn tram is popular with tourists at Victor Harbor.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

From Monday, they will be on display at Adelaide’s Westpac House, and will be auctioned online to raise at least $100,000 for the Childhood Cancer Association (CCA), to support children battling the illness.

Subjects include rock legend Jimmy Barnes, actress Theresa Palmer, the Hills Hoist, Kangaroo Island’s Remarkable Rocks, chef Maggie Beer, and pop singer Guy Sebastian.

There are also the ABC’s Collinswood building, AFLW star Chelsea Randall and former prime minister Julia Gillard.

A portrait of former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Born in the UK, former prime minister Julia Gillard moved to Adelaide at a young age.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

“As a female in politics, and in general, she’s an amazing person,” Lobert said of Gillard.

“The painting that has been done of Barnesy is linked in with the Largs Pier Hotel.

A portrait of Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes with the Largs Pier Hotel.
Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes with the Largs Pier Hotel.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

“That image would have to be one of my favorites.”

The project has evolved collaboratively — fellow artist Phil Hodgson has worked closely with Lobert, and it is testament to their commitment to the cause that both have volunteered their time.

Each has brought different and complementary skills.

Hodgson’s talents include the ability to capture the lineaments of a human face, while Lobert has focused on non-human subjects, as well as color schemes and other touches.

42 paintings in 30 weeks

In person, Lobert can look a little like a canvas himself — his arms are impressively inked, and his paint-stained shirt resembles a palette for mixing colours.

His studio is every bit the artist’s den.

Adelaide artist Mark Lobert stands in front of paintings.
Lobert’s shirt, like the floor of his studio, is suitably stained with paint.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Daniel Keane)

It is brimming with brushes, paint pots, blank canvases, and works in progress, and its floor is so densely covered with splashes of pigment that it resembles an example of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism.

But the paintings themselves suggest other suitably eclectic influences.

A carton of Farmers Union Iced Coffee, a packet of FruChocs and a selection of frog cakes evoke Andy Warhol’s soup cans, while the blues and yellows of an image of Adelaide’s skyline bring to mind van Gogh’s Starry Night.

A painting of a packet of FruChos.
An Andy Warhol-esque painting of a packet of FruChocs.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

“I kind of love colour, I’m always trying to chase color — I need to have color all around me,” Lobert said.

Despite that passion, he admits the production of 42 sizeable works in about 30 weeks has been a challenge.

A painting of Kangaroo Island's Remarkable Rocks.
Kangaroo Island’s Remarkable Rocks were among Hodgson and Lobert’s subjects.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

But when he knows, “I won’t lie — it’s been very stressful”, he spoke with the smile of someone who the finish line is in sight.

“They have taken a lot of time,” he said.

“Originally, we were going to start off with about 14 — then it went to 20, and 25 went to 30, then it bloomed out to 38 and shot out to 42.”

A painting of a Hills Hoist clothes line.
The Hills Hoist clothes line was produced in South Australia.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

‘The fight of his life’

The driving force behind the project has been media identity and CCA ambassador Mark Soderstrom.

Media identity and former SANFL footballer Mark Soderstrom.
By auctioning the paintings, Soderstrom hopes to raise $100,000.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Daniel Keane)

“I thought, we’ve got to be grateful for where we live, what can we do to raise $70,000 to $100,000?” he said.

“What if we try and showcase the best part of South Australia, and then auction them off for Childhood Cancer?

“They need something like $1.3 million a year to function and provide their services, so if we could put a dent in that, it’d be bloody brilliant.”

A painting of tuna fish.
Chosen subjects also included Port Lincoln’s tuna industry.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

Soderstrom admits he is is not “arty” himself — but he is impressed by the power of art not only to raise funds but to provide respite.

Through CCA, he struck up a friendship with Lobert.

Their work has put them in contact with some harrowing stories.

A portrait of AFLW star Chelsea Randall.
Three-time AFLW premiership player and two-time premiership co-captain Chelsea Randall.(Supplied: Phil Hodgson and Mark Lobert)

Soderstrom recalled the case of Jaxon, “an unbelievably brave little boy” who was undergoing palliative care at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

“He was in the fight of his life, and his parents called him Iron Man because he was so strong,” Soderstrom said.

Soderstrom asked Lobert to paint a picture of the superhero for Jaxon, to go over his hospital bed.

“Every time he woke up, with the time he had left, all he could see was Iron Man.”

Easing the burden on children like Jaxon is at the heart of the Spirit of SA.

“Our father passed away with cancer,” Lobert said.

“So whenever I hear of any [fundraiser] that’s to do with cancer, it’s always going to be a ‘yes’.

“I love to be able to give.”

Adelaide artists Leandra McKay and Mark Lobert at Lobert's Port Adelaide studio.
Assistant Leandra McKay and artist Mark Lobert at Lobert’s studio, where he has been working on a painting of CCA mascot Elliot.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Daniel Keane)

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