Robert calls out for art, but this time it’s personal 

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Owner of Aarwun Gallery Robert Stephens with donated art pieces… “I know exactly what it’s like on the fire front.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

GALLERY owner Robert Stephens collected more than 400 artworks to give to victims of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2010.

He’s rallying the art community again to gather works to give to victims of the recent fires, but this time he knows first hand what it’s like to be affected.

Owner of Aarwun Gallery in Gold Creek, art dealer Robert lost cattle and sheds on his rural property at Tumbarumba in the recent Ourie bushfire.

“I’m a victim myself, I had my farm burnt out and I was there. I know exactly what it’s like on the fire front,” he says. 

“I defended my house alone. You get into an adrenaline rush and keep going, but two or three days later is when it mentally gets the better of you, it’s the trauma, you don’t hear much about what happens afterwards. 

I know what people are going through, and the losses they’re experiencing.”

Robert says artists and art collectors have been incredibly generous, with “thousands of dollars worth” of paintings and sculptures already donated.

The works include art by Archibald prizewinner John Olsen, Wendy Sharpe, Norman Lindsay, Ebony Bennett, Fiona Cotton, Ken Knight, Jim van Geet, Gordon Hanley, Ted Lewis, Frank Miles, Velia Newman, Bernard Ollis, Margarita Georgiadis, Mark Waller, Roger Beale, Carlos Barrios, US artist Kurt Herrmann, Korean artists Min-Woo Bang and Lee Eun-Mi, and Canberra artists Sandra House, Graham Charlton, Kylie Fogarty and Sharon Rynehart.

As some of the paintings are so valuable, Robert says the gallery will hold a twilight auction on March 13, and will then evenly distribute the money they raise as gift cards.

The balance of paintings will be distributed direct to the communities when homes have been rebuilt.

“The artists and collectors’ contributions are beyond generous,” he says. 

“For example, Min-Woo Bang has donated every painting of his we have at the gallery. 

“We are receiving amazing works sculptures, indigenous art, still life, wildlife, abstract. It goes to show the generosity.” 

Robert is working with three other galleries where donations are accepted: Morpeth Gallery in the Hunter Valley, Myrtleford Gallery in Victoria, and Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina, which have already gathered hundreds of paintings between them.

He says the artworks can replace those lost in the fires and help create new traditions.

“Many people are far worse off than me, but from my point of view I’m personally involved this time,” he says. 

“With the Victorian fires, we donated paintings which were much appreciated. People could put them on the wall and it’s a good feeling. It’s something. A feeling that someone is looking after you.

“Not all memories are good about fires but at least someone’s thought to give you a painting. 

“It’s a healing process, and that’s what this is all about.”

Twilight auction at Aarwun Gallery, 11 Federation Square, Gold Creek, Friday, March 13 at 6.30pm. Donations gratefully accepted until then. Viewings available during the week prior. Call 6230 2055 or email aarwuncanberra@bigpond.com

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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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