The Daily Telegraph, Saturday, October 28, 2000
Trying to make your name as an artist is hard. Having a parent who is already a famous artist adds a separate dimension to the struggle. Does it help or hinder?
By Elizabeth Fortescue
Gria Shead, 28-year-old daughter of Archibald Prize winner Garry Shead, can laugh about it now. But when she was about 16 and her father was attempting to coach her in classical drawing techniques, it was a different story.
"We had some terrible days in the studio. Blood, sweat, and tears, literally - without the blood," Gria says. "It was really hard to work, because if I didn't get it right he would be cracking the whip.
"I was trying a lot to be very different from him. And so I wasn't really wanting to take on board all that he had to offer."
Earlier this year, Gria Shead had her first solo exhibition at Eva Breuer's Woollahra art gallery. It was a sell-out. Now that she feels she's "on the road to being a fully fledge artist", she treasures the advice her father gave her.
"It's fantastic now," Gria says. "I was thinking last night about some of the things he taught me about painting figures and how good it was. But it was really hard work."
Gria is a young Sydney painter who has chosen to follow a famous parent into the visual arts. She is joined, among many others, by Sophie Dunlop, 29, of Paddington, whose father is the painter Brian Dunlop. There's Stephen Coburn, 45, of Annadale, sone of abstract artist John Coburn and printmaker Barbara Coburn. There's Jonathan Delafield Cook, 35, who splits his time between Sydney and London and is the son of Sydney landscape painter William Delafield Cook.
There are historical precedents aplenty: the Impressionist Camille Pissarro and his sone Lucien, 16 th century Dutch painter Pieter Brueghel and his sons Pieter and Jan and Caravaggio follow Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemisia.
More recently in Australia , there was John Perceval, who died this month. Three of his four children are artists. There was Arthur Boyd, who was the son and father of artists. There was Hans Heysen, whose daughter is a distinguished Sydney painter. The list is long.
Sophie Dunlop, Gria Shead, Stephen Coburn and Jonathan Delafield Cook all have varying experiences as the offspring of leading Australian artists. But the one thing they have in common is early memories of helping in their parents' studios and of being constantly in the company of creative people.
As Eva Breuer puts it, they took in art with their mothers' milk. Their decision to become artists was a natural progression. They saw the dedication required and are better equipped than most to handle the quotidian but essential practicalities of an artist's life.
Stephen Coburn, for instance, spent three years in Paris with his parents as a child. He remembers parties where painter Charles Blackman staged breadstick sword flights.
"I think I actually shook hands with (the American artist) Man Ray when I was about 13. That handshake burned a hole in my hand later on," Stephen said.
For Sophie Dunlop, art was happening all around her as a child. Nevertheless, her father was both happy and concerned at her decision to become an artist. He expressed his misgivings at the time of Sophie's first solo show this year, which turned out to be a near sell out.
"He was telling my Gran just before the show: 'I wouldn't have wanted to push anyone into this - it's a really hard life,' " Sophie said.
Sophie said both she and her father were "very awkward" about her being an artist until this year.
She had felt self-conscious and embarrassed at art school, where her father had been a lecturer 20 years previously. "I just felt, like, the weight of it, I suppose," she said. "I've sort of relaxed a bit now."
Gria Shead said her father told her early on that she was an artist. He encouraged but never pressured her.
Stephen Coburn said his parents had been both supportive but cautious about him becoming an artist. His father told him he was a moderately talented artist and would have to be extremely persistent to get anywhere.
"After many, many years I realised that essentially he was laying down the ground rules. You can't go out there expecting yourself to be an artist straight off and considering yourself to be a talented person," Stephen said.
Stephen was a founding member of the rock group Mental As Anything. He is now a painter and sculptor with 10 solo exhibitions to his credit. He also runs his own fine art conservation business.
Like Sophie Dunlop, Stephen Coburn studied at an art school where his father was well known. John Coburn was head of the National Art School , which was known as the Alexander Mackie College by the time Stephen got there.
"I was into it thinking I was a sure bet for being a star and, of course, I came up against quite extraordinary competition, which threw me," Stephen said.
"I don't think I was particularly victimised because I was Dad's son. I may have had a bit of a stigma about it, and it was up to me to realise it was an asset.
"I think a lot of children of famous people tend to make that problem for themselves. They start thinking they are in the shadow of their parent. In fact, you are in the shadow of everybody, regardless of who you are. We all live in the shadow of Picasso. And Picasso was the son of an artist.
Sophie believes she inherited a desire to be an artist. Not only is her father an artist but her grandfather, Leonard Dunlop, was a talented amateur artist.
Jonathan Delafield Cook also comes from an artistic dynasty. Apart from his father, his great grandfather William was a Melbourne painter who "knocked around with" Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts.
"I was never overtly encouraged to tread the line I did," Jonathan said. "I actually read history and probably reacted against the art scene as a teenager, but inexorably gravitated towards it."
Despite his happy acceptance of his lineage, Jonathan is glad he established his career in London .
"Possibly it would have been difficult to have come up with my father's name in Australia ," he said.
In Sydney , father and son both exhibit at the Rex Irwin gallery in Woollahra. Cook senior is also represented by Sherman Galleries.
"As far as stepping on each other's toes, we keep pretty much out of one another's way in terms of showing," Jonathan said. "We always show separately and tend not to show in the same year."
Sophie and Brian Dunlop both show at Eva Breuer's gallery. Do people look for differences and similarities in their work?
"I don't know. I suppose. I was here when the show was on and some people really enjoyed the paintings without worrying about that, but maybe some people like to feel reassured that there's that connection," she said.
Sophie used to be annoyed by comparison between her work and her father's, but she loves his paintings and is now proud of the influence he has had on her style. She sees this as a continuation of the studio tradition, which flourished during the Renaissance.
However, she is glad she did not receive most of her training directly from her father, whose strong personality would probably have been "too influential". Most of her studies were at COFA and the Julian Ashton Art School . She also had years of private tuition with two of her father's students - Francis Giacco and Jenny Sands.
Sophie said her father's name probably helped her secure a solo show with Eva Breuer, "but Eva had been selling my work just from the back room for a few years, so she knew she could sell me".
Stephen Coburn does not share his father's dealer - Australian Galleries, where Garry Shead also shows - but wouldn't be upset if a gallery offered him a show because of his paternal connection. He is intensely proud of his father and his work and is pragmatic about the potential benefits for him.
"I have to say it's a help," he said. "I guess people know the name and will at least look at your work. The other thing is you tend to know people within the industry.
"I am a great believer in the fact that if you have got any asset at all you may as well use it because life's pretty difficult in this business."
In the end, Stephen said, the work either stands or falls on its own. If you can get a foot in the door, use it. Gria Shead, however, shirted the gallery scene for years, fearful that she would be taken on purely because of her father's reputation.
Gria and Sophie agree they can rely on their fathers for an honest critique - even a blunt one. Brian Dunlop came to Sydney to look at Sophie's work just before it went on show.
"That was fantastic, actually, because he like everything - and he's actually an extremely harsh critic of me," Sophie said.
But in artistic dynasties, the traffic's not all one way. Stephen Coburn is often introduced as John Coburn. "I told Dad and he said 'oddly enough, somebody called me Stephen Coburn.'"