You notice it as you drive up Sandy Bay Road and come to stop at the lights where this thoroughfare intersects with Davey Street – or, then again, maybe you don’t. It’s kind of muted, as befits the period in which it was made, with 123,000 Italian glass tiles. It took him two years to create it. When it was finished, in 1960, it was an early harbinger of the symbol that went on to be now instantly recognisable as that representing the organisation for which the mural was laboriously pieced together – our ABC. It’s on the street-face of the building that once housed Hobart’s vibrant branch of Auntie – vibrant until Abbott and his cronies finally gutted it in the state by dispensing with its long standing current affairs show. These days 5-7 Sandy Bay Road is the home of the Conservatorium of Music, still flanked by that mosaic, now over fifty years standing. It is a tribute to the artist who painstakingly put it all together – Essie’s dad, George Davis.
Essie, of course, is the locally produced star of stage, small screen and international film – most prominently, in recent times, as the lead character in ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ for none other than the ABC – another season coming soon. Essie was with her old man at the opening of an exhibition in tribute to George at the TMAG late last year. Present, gracing the walls, were his original designs for that mural.
Our city once more turned to George Davis after the 1984 fire that almost led to the destruction of Hobart’s shining symbol of its colonial heritage – the remarkable and irreplaceable gem that is the Theatre Royal. If you have reason to visit this wonderful little centre of our burg’s cultural life, look up to its dome and note the ten composers featured there – restored by Davis after the almost fatal inferno.
GD, in his early days, was a student of Jack Carrington Smith, head of the Tasmanian School of Art from 1940 till 1970 – a local legend. Early on Davis’ skills were recognised, so much so that the state government awarded the youthful dauber a travelling scholarship, to London, to further hone his talents. There are some works from this early UK period on show. On his return George took up various contracts with governmental organisations, these taking him to places such as Macquarie Island – on the Nella Dan no less – and remote islets of the Furneaux Group. He then sketched and put to canvas scenes, particularly of the wildlife, he witnessed at these isolated locations.
George Davis is a bit of a throwback to another era and one can discern this by the exactness of his sketching – he was/is a meticulous practitioner. He was also a popular portraitist – there is nothing flashy or eye-catchingly ostentatious about his work, either, in this regard. It’s all calm and precise – just as his mosaic. It’s the type of art you’d maybe notice on the wall in one of the offices of the ‘Mad Men’ alumni – designed to not only to enhance but fit in, not to steal the show by shouting back at you.
In truth, my visit to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was for another reason – to view the cricket memorabilia, from the likes of Boon and Ponting, open for display there to celebrate the World Cup games soon to get under-way across the river at Bellerive. That, when I entered, was all tied up with its official opening – so I beat a hasty retreat and soon found myself lost in George Davis’ world. I stood, looking at his loving sketch of his daughter, so pleased that, in the end, he had waylaid me for an hour or so with his albatross chicks and penguin skulls. Matters cricket can wait for another time.