Painting With Max Watters -a memoir

painting I refer to by Max Watters In Muswellbrook Art Centre
screenshot from Google

The funeral for succesful Australian artist, Max Watters, was held on Wed 19th February, 2020. He was 83 when he died.

Photo from Newcastle Herald/Muswellbrook Chronicle

So sorry to lose my friend and former art tutor. Many others will feel the same, because as mentioned at his funeral, Max didn’t hold art classes, he had art groups. We weren’t his pupils, he treated us all as his friends.

Max would have been about forty when I met him. Tall, pleasant-pleasant-looking, slightly balding, sleeves of his cotton shirts rolled above his biceps, worker style.

He was very quiet, always had a half-smile on his face, ready to laugh. I was part of his first art group in Singleton. He would have been about forty. Our class met in the Old Municipal Chambers on the main highway, with heavy coal trucks rumbling by the entrance.

Despite his success, Max didn’t try to impose his unique style upon us. I only wish he had. Already even his small paintings were selling for $4,000 in the 1980’s. Cheekily, I offered to swap him one of my early works for one of his. He smiled gently, a twinkle in his eye, and turned to my latest effort to see how he could help solve my problem.

Being a true individual himself, Max didnt try to influence our styles of painting, preferring to encourage. He would show you how to mix a certain shade, what the best brush was for that stroke, then stand back and move to the next person.

He did share one of his secrets for avoiding tedious hours of filling in tree canopies. A small piece of sponge that he would dab into certain shades then press on to the canvas. The tedious (to me) hours of carefully placing dot after dot of colour came after.Another hint he gave me is not to paint your branches on to the sky, but to paint small patches of sky amongst your leaves later. Much better effect.

The uniqueness of his early country scenes was the two-dimensional ‘flatness’ that still conveyed a complete view of a cottage on a hillside among trees. He captured old schools, sheds with iron roofs. Country areas that have since been swallwed by coal mining. The colours were deep, they glowed.

I had heard’the naive style’ atributed to them. The technique was complicated.

Max Watters brother Frank, who till recently ran the Watters art gallery in Sydney, could surely tell you in exact terms how Max Watters’ works fit into the modern art genre, for he has sold many of them.

Being Max though, he would return to Muswellbrook, NSW from Sydney having purchased the work of other promising talent.

If you called in to his home In Muswellbrook, half-way up the Hunter Valley as we locals see it, you would enter a true old wooden Aussie cottage, verandas and all. In my memory it was all weathered wood, no paint.

Same inside, but leaning against every wall, and hanging on every wall, were paintings by other artists. The money Max Watter’s own paintings made went back into more paintings. His place was a very condensed art gallery!

Even then, Max intended to have enough to further the impressive collection of the progressive Muswellbrook Art Gallery and there it is today. Not a country town little art gallery in a rickety hall, but a well-renowned modern, active gallery that is part of the local community and the whole art world.

That is his legacy. We are his legacy. People who love to paint, not ‘precious’ painters.

And yes, next time you look at the sky, open your eyes. Just gaze. How many shades of blue do you see? Is that cloud tinged with grey, or is it really a reddish purple? Is there a hint if butter yellow among that cloud where the sun is behind? It is a special yellow that comes in a tube. Payne’s grey, not black gives better shading on skin tones. Little suggestions that make a world of difference. Thanks for those tips, Max, I never forgot.


Eunice C English

Portrait of my Mother from Max’s time. Emphasis on making the satin dress glimmer . And the eyes
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