HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts and shows in Canberra
WHEN Canberra schoolboy Domenic Mico told his careers adviser he wanted to be a painter he found himself in a job painting cars at Jim Farrell’s Smash Repairs in Fyshwick.
It wasn’t quite the kind of art he had in mind so, after a short stint, he trained in the other kind of painting under Kate Hine at the old Canberra School of Art and exhibited with a group called Workshop Five. A painting called “The Windmills of Your Mind”, inspired by the famous song, was purchased by Greg Cornwell, later speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
But the lure of the performing and community arts for which Mico would become famous was too strong and in the 1970s he embarked on a trajectory that would lead him in 1982 to become the first recipient of the Australia Council’s Ros Bower Award for community arts and cultural development.
Now, many decades on, he is staging a solo exhibition at the Form Studio and Gallery in Queanbeyan.
Few people knew that when he was owner of Smith’s Alternative in Civic, Mico had taken up painting again and that, once he’d retired, he had thrown himself into painting landscapes, clouds, sea and mountains with the same passionate commitment he had given to all his endeavours.
“One day I thought I might abstract them – and boy did I do that! Suddenly, my clouds weren’t clouds anymore and I was using more colour,” he says.
“That was the change that happened to me, colour became the most important element.”
Mico has created a suite of large-format abstract works that he calls a “Symphony in Colour”, a nod to his abiding love of music.
His show will be curated by “CityNews” art writer Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak and launched by influential former ACT arts minister Bill Wood, whom he describes as “a great supporter of the things I was doing in community arts… now we’re both retired, it’s really good that we are both coming out on the same night.
“There is life after retirement, especially in the creative arts.
“I’ve always worked in oils. I like the smell, even though they’re terrible for you.
“I found I was addicted to oils and I really use a lot of paint.”
Mico’s influence on Canberra’s cultural life is incalculable. Honoured with an Italian knighthood and this year with an Order of Australia Medal, he was in 2001 named as one of “75 people who had shaped the national capital”.
He established a community arts colony at Strathnairn, wrote newspaper columns and 25 plays, including pirate plays staged on Springbank Island, got up the noses of the arts bureaucrats and, his proudest boast, once caused an “arts traffic jam” outside Bruce Stadium when he presented Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand” there.
He founded the Canberra Day celebrations, later the Canberra Festival, Blues Folk Community Arts Association at Strathnairn, Tuggeranong Arts Centre, TAU Community Theatre, the Backstage Performing Arts Café and, notably, the National Multicultural Festival.
Mico is not done with the theatre, saying: “One of the lovely things about painting is that you can dream and create other things while you’re doing the work… I’ve got ideas, I’m working on a show, you never know.”
Canberrans who know of his larger-than-life personality will be unsurprised to learn that his paintings are big.
“I do paintings in large format because they don’t work in small formats,” he says.
“I have to learn to control how large they’ll be…You want people to be able to take them home, but they’ll have to have a house big enough to take them.”
“Symphony in Colour: recent works by Domenic Mico”, at Form Studio and Gallery, 1/30 Aurora Street, Queanbeyan, March 22–April 10. Opening, 6pm, Thursday, March 22. All welcome.