Today I’m digging out my interview with artist Marc Etherington, done in March this year (2017) at Michael Reid’s new gallery in Surry Hills, Sydney. The show was titled Take Me Home, and my story about it was used in the Daily Telegraph and can be read here. Marc subsequently achieved great success, selling 40 artworks at the Sydney Art Fair at Carriageworks, according to Michael Reid.

I really wanted to meet Marc, having admired his Archibald Prize portraits of fellow artists Ken Done and Del Kathryn Barton. Both of those portraits had an honesty and rawness about them that appealed to me a lot. There was almost an Outsider quality to them, as though their maker were doing it for his own reasons and blow everyone else. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Peter Fay had been something of a mentor to Marc, Fay being one of the biggest collectors of Outsider art in this country and the man behind the big Home Sweet Home exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Fay also helped start Shaun Gladwell’s stellar career, having given Shaun a small amount of money which the artist used to create his breakthrough video work, Storm Sequence.

I was a bit out of my depth in this interview because I found that Marc’s inspiration, at least in part, is derived from movies that I’ve never seen and are not really my “thing”. These included The Great Lebowski, The Goonies, True Grit, and True Detective. Despite not understanding many of the references, I very much enjoyed meeting Marc and I got some good insight into his work and what got him painting in the first place. And I did know one of the films he referred to – The Shining, with Jack Nicholson. (Here’s Johnny!)


Take me home told a loose narrative about a detective who witnesses the death of his wife and undergoes a journey of revenge in which Care Bears, monsters and other strange creatures play incidental roles. Finally, we see the detective returning to his wife via a rainbow stretched between two clouds. The paintings I loved best from the show were unrelated to this theme, and slightly separate. They were paintings of fish in fish tanks, representing a new departure for Marc. One of these fish tank paintings was subsequently chosen to be a finalist in this year’s Sulman Prize, and it can be viewed here.

Elizabeth Fortescue: How long have you worked on all the paintings in this show?

Marc Etherington: Since September/October last year. If I go a few days without painting I start to go a bit crazy.

EF: You were already a mature person when you discovered art?

ME: Yeah, we lived in Canada for eight years (2001 – 2008) and I was looking for something to do in the winter. We lived in Edmonton and winters are just brutal. I started painting, and couldn’t stop. (He started painting in about 2006.)

In Canada, Marc did “crazy shifts” at the airport, from 7am until midnight. During the day he was often snowbound and confined to home. He took to painting for “something to do”.

EF: You were looking after the kids?

ME: Not so much over there, but when we came back (to Sydney) and my wife went to work I was looking after my son here. That’s when I continued painting over here when I was at home looking after him. He’s at school now but I’m still at home painting. Working intermittently, installing shows and things like that. I have a 12 year old and a seven year old (the couple’s son was born back here).

Marc said he had a breakthrough when he and his wife were doing pottery classes together at Gymea TAFE in about 2011. It was just so they could get out of the house and do something together. 

ME: Mum would watch the kids and we’d go off. I told Lynda I painted and she said show me. I bought in a photo book.

On Draper’s advice, Marc showed his work to Peter Fay who subsequently included Marc’s work in a show at Sheffer Gallery.

The painting from the series, Take Me Home, by Marc Etherington, where the detective is reunited with his wife. Courtesy Michael Reid gallery.

The painting from the series, Take Me Home, by Marc Etherington, where the detective is reunited with his wife. Courtesy Michael Reid gallery.

Marc painted Peter Fay for the 2013 Archibald. He did artist Frank Nowlan the following year, which made it into the Salon des Refuses. Then in 2015 Marc was hung in the Archibald with Del Kathryn Barton, and in 2016 with Ken Done.  This year Marc was successful again, this time with a painting of artist Paul Williams.

EF: You grew up in Gymea?

ME: Yes.

EF: What’s going on in the painting called Dragging the River?

ME: They’re all about a detective. Have you seen True Grit, the western? It’s based on him but he’s a detective and his wife gets killed, that’s the Care Bear one. They go in a bit of a series but it’s about his life and his work. That’s Dragging the River. True Grit has kind of got nothing to do with this show, but he kind of looks like him. He a rough sort of old (knockabout detective).

EF: Why a detective story?

ME: I watched True Detective a while ago, so I don’t know if something stuck in my head with that.

Marc pointed to another painting and said: This is a scene from a movie called The Goonies, my favourite movie in the 80s. It’s like my imagination and my childhood and detective in a mish mash. Anything in the 80s.

EF: You paint in acrylics. How did you learn to paint?

ME: It was just trial and error.

EF: Tell me about your new fish tank paintings. Why did you start painting them?

ME: We just got one with a fighting fish. I really like the fish. It’s got a real personality I didn’t expect.

EF: I really enjoyed both your Archibald Prize works.

ME: Getting into the Archibald was just crazy. Ken Done was such a good guy. I just Googled him and found a phone number for his assistant. I live in Gymea — I don’t drive to Mosman very often. I left at 7am and had to be there at 10. I slept in my car for a coupe of hours. I was so stressed but Ken is an awesome guy. I grew up with his work. Love it. Bright colours and fun. I just bought a painting of his. Paying it off in instalments. It’s a painting he’s done of his studio.


Posted by Elizabeth Fortescue, December 30, 2017, Sydney, Australia