Studio Spaces is a collaboration between the Manning River Times and the Manning Regional Art Gallery featuring artists from the MidCoast region. The project culminates with in an exhibition in 2018. Learn more.
Rod Spicer takes a seat at his canvas and picks up a paintbrush.
His hands settle on a tube of oil paint from the “oyster lease”, the nickname he’s given to his pile of paint tubes because of the way they look as a collection, and gets ready to paint.
His strokes are quick and relaxed as he talks through what he is doing.
“I mainly work in oils because they seem to have the guts or the depth of colour that I need,” he said. “They’re a bit sympathetic when drying too, watercolours are pretty hard.
"But, in saying that if you took oil paints off me, I’d be painting with watercolour.
“And if you took watercolour off me, I’d be drawing. It’s just something that I’ve got to do. And if I couldn’t do that, I’d be making sculptures, which is another love of mine.”
The canvas on which he works sits on a shelf in his undercover outdoor studio, which he built himself over a number of years, at the back of the home he shares with his wife.
The house was originally built in 1840. “It’s old. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s got character.”
When they moved in 30 years ago, Rod said the structure was leaning to the west six inches so using the skills he learned in the building game, he rolled the floor forward. “There’s a lot in that.”
Rod has set up art studios all over the house at different times. “Just ask my wife who can get sick of the paintings everywhere!"
He eventually built a space in an upstairs room which he intended to use as a studio, but it didn’t work out that way.
Now he has a purpose-built space, it’s where he spends the majority of his free time.
“This is where it happens, where I work. This is where I live basically.
“It’s an outdoor area which I love. I love to be outdoors, the fresh air. Sometimes it gets a little bit cold or a little bit hot, and there’s little things like insects,” he said. “You get up in the morning and your painting can be smothered in insects.
As he works, he is surrounded by his sketches, painted canvases, tubes of paint, paint brushes, photos and knick knacks, which all paint their own picture of a life immersed in creativity.
Rod’s early years gave him a good grounding in drawing and art.
“I come from Caparra which is where I was reared by my grandparents.
“They encouraged me, and my parents encouraged me, to purely keep drawing and keep painting, which I’ve never stopped. But I feel like I’ve just started.”
His earliest works can be found underneath a house in Caparra. “My grandfather was probably my greatest encourager.” When he was building a house Rod would help by sharpening up the woodworking pencils, “which were very hard”.
“I used to draw on all the bearers and joists.”
He attended the Sydney School of the Art in the late 1970s, early ‘80s. The move to the city came as a bit of a shock after growing up in the bush.
“I couldn’t quite get it. It was wonderful and the world just opened up,” he said. “It was a good art school and we had some good lecturers, including the Rolling Stone publisher. They had different guest people, big names who were very inspirational. As much I hated it, it was good.”
Rod then went on to Newcastle University for a couple of years with plans to become an art teacher, but after doing some prac teaching at schools in Taree and Maitland, he realised it wasn’t what he wanted at the time.
“I just wanted to paint and it was a big distraction. I’d like to be (an art teacher) now, but not then. I was an introvert in an extrovert world.”
Rod said that renowned artist Brett Whiteley summed up creating art well when he called it a “difficult pleasure”.
“It can be very frustrating and disappointing.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re waiting for some magic to come in. But you can’t hang yourself too much on waiting for it, you’ve just got to let it happen.
“An old lecturer of mine in art school said it’s perspiration, not inspiration. That’s what he told me and I’ve never forgotten it.
“And it’s pretty true because once you start you force yourself because if you sit around waiting for something to happen it might never happen, so get off your easel and get into it I think. Fill in some spaces. The white canvas is always the enemy.”
Rod said he doesn’t paint anything thinking he is going to sell it, and the reality is that although he is an exhibiting artist, not all paintings make it.
“They fall short and you get to realise that but I don’t give up and sometimes a little bit of magic steps in and quite often the best painting is after your worst.
“I don’t think I’ve ever burned anything or ruined it, it’s just that sometimes they fall a little bit short of what I had in mind.”
It is all part of the creative process and something every artist goes through, no matter how accomplished.
Maker by nature
By nature, Rod is a maker. He paints, draws, sculpts, he’s a labourer, a gardener and a builder. “I’ve been labouring and painting all my life”.
But he’s noticed that people aren’t creating as much these days. “That’s the world now I think, we’re not doing as much as we should be.”
One weekend he went up to the wood heap, picked up some bloodwood and worked on making it into a ball.
“It was pure enjoyment. I didn’t achieve much, only that. But I just needed to do it and we’re all hellbent on time management and I’ve got to be here and I’ve got to be there, but sometimes it’s just okay, just let it go. Don’t question it too much and let it happen.
We’re all hellbent on time management and I’ve got to be here and I’ve got to be there, but sometimes it’s just okay, just let it go. Don’t question it too much and let it happen.
“We’ve been looking at pictures for millions of years, on cave walls… the human spirit’s got a need for it and I think it’s that connection. You’re a connector to someone else.”
Rod knows he is fortunate to have a dedicated studio space.
“So many people say they need a studio. I’ve never had a studio as such, just set up. But you can paint anywhere. There comes a time you go alright, I’ve got to do something and set it up.”