What inspired you to write this book? The book A Brush with Mondrian was born of my guilt. I had been a sloppy custodian of the few Dutch heirlooms my mother had insisted we bring to Australia. She was an orphan at 16 and her only link with her parents was through some old oil paintings and family treasures that had been left to her when they died. I had almost lost everything twice through fire. Now that I was their owner I felt it my duty to tell my children and grandchildren something about the articles, as no-one seemed enamoured with the old ‘junk’ and I feared it would all end up at the local Vinnies. The bushfires of 1994 moved me to act. I began to do some research.
What do you love most about Dutch paintings? Dutch paintings of the Golden Age are the ones that continue to inspire and intrigue me. When I first went back to Holland in 1968 I fell in love with A Mother’s Duty by Pieter de Hooch. A few months ago I saw it again in the Rijksmuseum and I still love it. The ordinary lives of people of another time with the detail of house interiors, clothes and pastimes with the quiet mood and unhurried lives is such a contrast to our busy bustle. I find the paintings calming and an antidote to the 21st century.
Which Dutch Masters do you most admire? Growing up with dark oil paintings of Dutch scenes and family likenesses predisposed me to look for similarities in the works we studied at school for the Matriculation exams at High School. I loved looking at Jan Vermeer’s quiet interiors and Pieter de Hooch’s glimpses of courtyards through open doors. I marvelled at Hans Memling’s details of fur, cloth and skin and Jan Steen’s chaotic households with secret messages for those in the know. The world of these paintings was unlocking another time but it felt somehow familiar.
What’s the hardest part of your job? The hardest part of the job of writing is believing in yourself enough to continue when the going gets tough. The niggly critic in your head that asks, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ needs to be stomped on.
What’s the best part of your job? The best part is the delicious sensation of living in a parallel universe where writers get to live several lives at once, the day space, the dream space and the writing space.
What was the best thing about writing this book? Writing A Brush with Mondrian became a family cementing enterprise when my long estranged half-siblings joined me in some of the research in pockets of the Netherlands. It became a focus for our new relationship and helped ease some of the pain of the past.
What was the most interesting fact you discovered when writing this book? By far the most exciting fact that I discovered was the coincidence that the house so often painted by Piet Mondrian is the house my nephew and his wife bought in 1996. Weird and wonderful.
What was the best thing that happened because of this book? When the book was published I was asked to be a guest at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. It was a double delight as my son Julian lives in the area and as Artistic Director of NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts) he was also presenting work. Perhaps a first mother and son team on the program.
Do you have a favourite museum? The Kruller Moller Museum in Otterloo in the Netherlands holds the second largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh in the world. The museum is a hidden treasure begun by Anton and Helene Kroller Muller with almost limitless funds. Fabulous sculptures stand out in the extensive undulating gardens and in small corners where visitors happen on them almost casually.
Which 5 people would you like to have over for dinner? For a dinner party I would ask Sister Wendy Beckett (BBC art series), Simon and Nootje Maris (they knew my grandparents and the art circle in Amsterdam), Richard Tulloch who speaks perfect Dutch and took The Book of Everything to Broadway (and adapted 13 Storey, 26 Storey, 52 Storey Treehouse for stage with sell-out performances at the Opera House) and also my son Julian Louis who directed the Treehouse series. It’s devious but I’d like that band to create a play based on A Brush with Mondrian.
Read my review of ‘A Brush With Mondrian’ here.