Success and failure while having a ball
Just over a year after Japan signed the formal surrender to bring to an end the Second World War, the Sydney Black and W...hite Artists’ Club conducted the Artists’ Atomic Ball on September 10, 1946. While such a ball would not be considered politically correct now, back then nobody gave a second thought to the name.
It was a great success with the Sydney Moring Herald reporting more than 1,000 attended the function held in the Trocadero in George Street, Sydney. There was a ‘nonsense’ programme, which listed a burlesque mannequin parade with men wearing women's model frocks as the highlight.
There were "Coons" in zoot suits, Spanish ladies and harem dancers, pirates, and a farm girl with hay in her hair. There was also a soldier, straight from the swamps of New Guinea, with vines trailing around him and great cardboard bugs on his shirt and a Russian Princess who forgot her character to jitterbug with a cowboy.
There where more serious matters to be considered too. Club president, Stan Cross announced, “The Club, in fact, is to be restarted and improved. Its constitution is to be altered to bring it under the aegis of a wider organisation which will be known as The Graphic Arts Centre, which will also embrace The Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists’ Association.” It was all part of a plan to change the direction of the Club, from a professional and social organisation and make it more similar to a trade union.
The Sydney Black and White Artists' Club, and the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists' Association had been working together for some time and had cooperated in staging the 1941 artists ball. However the changes were resisted by many of the cartoonists and never happened. As a result the Sydney Black and White Artists’ Club continued to operate as it had since being formed 22 years before.
The artists in Sydney Black and White Artists’ Club were an interesting lot. Kenneth Slessor, who had been editor of Smith’s Weekly, wrote a description of them for the program under the heading of “What I Know About Artists, If Anything, or, Is W. E. Pidgeon a Human Being?”
It may well be thought that I ought to know something about artists, seeing that for the last 26 years I have been listening to artists, looking at them, lending them money, curing them of hiccoughs and watching them from the undergrowth as they come down to the creeks to drink at night.
The fact is that I know practically nothing about artists. I am not even sure whether they are human beings. Or minerals or vegetables. I knew an artist once who took his furniture to Manly in a rowing-boar.
It included a hat-rack, a kitchen-dresser, a mahogany commode and an enormous birdcage.
I know another artist who used to bribe a taxi-driver to take his aged parrot for a spin through Centennial Park. I know an artist who once dived into Farm Cove and landed at the Mosman wharf under his own power, and then turned round and bit the hand, which was feeding him a stomach pump.
Other useful bits of knowledge about artists are as follows:
They are fond of food.
They lie to women like hell, and then get them to come round and get their portraits painted.
They wipe their nibs and brushes on anything handy, preferably on a dog with long, silky hair.
They are very fertile, and have large families.
Their idea of breakfast is a bottle of stout and a pair of scissors to cut their toenails with.
They wear funny clothes, such as corduroy pants, sandals, coats with reinforced leather elbows, or full evening dress with white ties.
They drink gin and peppermint, sometimes at 6.30 a.m.
They let hair grow down their backs of their necks.
They also let it grow down the fronts of their faces.
They kan't spel for nutts'
If they wear shorts, they stick pipes in the tops of their socks'
They have powerful voices, and often insist on singing
They think the human face has one eye' no mouth' an elliptical nose' three ears, and is coloured green
If you still want to know whether artists are human beings' send me 1pound in a plain sealed envelope.
While most of those attending the ball knew who each these individual artists were, there is a chance some might need identification these days. The artist who rowed his furniture to Manly was Joe Jonsson; the one with the parrot was Lance Driffield, who could not bear to think of the bird cooped up in his little Kings Cross flat: the one who dived into Farm Cove was George Finey.
A few days after the Atomic Ball was over Les Tanner reflected on the event. “Bill Pidgeon (WEP) had a soft voice, workman like hands with solid blunt fingers (as I well remember, from having one of them down my throat to make me up-chuck some of the excess liquor I’d consumed at the Artists’ Ball so I’d be sober enough to drive home.)” Lucky for Les there was no breath testing in those days.
After 3 years and 3 months since our first meeting, 47K photos and scans taken and catalogued, the archives of William Edwin Pidgeon (Wep) including the three iconic portraits of himself, and his two wives, Jess and Dorothy (my Mum) which featured in the May 2012 Retrospective exhibition at Artarmon Galleries, depart today for their new home at National Library of Australia
Peter Pidgeon discusses his father, artist and war correspondent William Edwin Pidgeon (WEP) in an interview with the Memorial's Curator of Art Claire Baddeley https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/S06067
Today is Wep's birthday. He would have been 108 this year.
Wep reading a congratulatory telegram to Peter on the occasion of winning his 2nd Archibald Prize, 19 Jan 1962
"SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE . . ....
Mr. Pidgeon, painter of the prize portrait, and his son, Peter who is three today"
- Daily Mirror, Friday, January 19, 1962, p5
Tue 27-Nov-56: Down the Rhine by Lorelei Express, arrived Zurich about 9pm
Wed 28-Nov-56: Roamed around Zurich & caught plane at 7:30 back to Aust.