We were obsessed with the to-doings of the famous and not so famous, people who we met on the street, the exhibitions we had been to, and many, many musings on television…
We’d talk endlessly about the hot woman in the Brand Power ads and her provocative love of the skivvy; the on-again, off-again relationship of FOX 8 presenters Alex and Amy [the former now appearing in that ad as the Brad Pitt lookin’ mofo talkin’ on a blue tooth mobile in the lift with the ditzy Coke drinker chick, the latter still on cable TV] and of course, our sightings of Bruce James [we were convinced he was stalking us – we’d go to the shops to buy biscuits and he’d be there, his stubby little fingers pawing at a packet of Tim Tams; we’d go to a gallery and Bruce would be hanging around the entrance with his shopping bags or we’d be crossing the street and he’d be on the other side waiting for us to cross, smiling a weird smile, his eyes glinting]. The celebrity spotting around Victoria Street hit a peak in 2001-02. We’d be wandering along and we’d see Billy Connolly in Goodfellas [supermarket], Matthew Newton and gf having breakfast at Morgans, Keanu Reaves walking in a weird “don’t look at me but yes you can because we both know you know who I am but don’t look at me [etc]” manner. Sometimes you didn’t even have to go out, celebrities would come to your door. Russell Crowe and Danielle Spencer walked down the middle of Surrey Street as all the neighbours came out to gawk at them [before someone went and spoiled it by yelling “C__t!”] or you could be laying on your couch listening to Regurgitator’s Art* CD and there’d be a knock at the door and you’d open it and Quan Yeomans would be standing there…
So in the middle of all this celebrity madness we decided to do an experiment. We went to Morgans and ordered a round of coffees and vowed we’d stay there until we had seen some celebs. It didn’t matter if they were A list or Z list, TV, music or movie people, artists, art critics or someone who was merely doing promos on FOX 8, Victoria Street was so celebrity rich we’d wait there for as long as we had to. We waited. And waited. Nothing happened. People were drab. Boring. Across the road at the Tropicana people pretended to be famous but no one was. Then Richard McMillan came walking along in that casual roll he had, as though he was just out for a stroll in Greenwich Village walking an imaginary dog. We can’t remember if he had his hands in his pockets or if he was whistling a happy tune, but let’s say he was, because he was that kind of guy. He came over, bludged a cigarette, joined us for a coffee as we explained how depressed we were that the celebrity spotting experiment as going so badly. In the space of 45 seconds Richard had pointed out two amazing personalities: Gunter Christman (old painter bloke) and Les Murray (the completely barmy poet). We’re not sure if he was joking about the second one but he certainly looked mad and eccentric enough to be really Les Murray because he had a big straw hat on. Richard bade us farewell and set off down the street rolling on the balls of his feet like a cheeky cartoon kid.
This was the nature of our relationship with Richard McMillan. He’d pop up, say hi, then he’d disappear again. We’d first met him way back in the early 1980s when he was, with Ross Wolfe and Peter Thorn, a founding editor of Art Network, the Australian art magazine that was way ahead of its time, mixing serious art articles with gossip and news, causing a ruckus, then it went out of business. Among his accomplishments with Art Network, McMillan oversaw the publication of an entire issue dedicated to contemporary photography. McMillan was also a respected art scholar, an acknowledged expert on the work of Tony Tuckson, a member of the Oceanic Art Society, an artist who exhibited with King Street Galleries and, with his partner John Plapp, an art world benefactor donating works to various collections including the National Gallery of Australia. Unlike so many people you meet in the Australian art world, he was always nice to us when he didn’t have to be and, incredibly, he always remembered everybody’s name. We’d see him at openings and he was witty, urbane, knowledgeable, passionate, always fond of good gossip – exactly what you want out of the art life. The last time we saw him was in 2004 at the Works on Paper Fair at Fox Studios. He was in good spirits despite the fact he was missing most of his hair. We didn’t know it at the time but he was undergoing a course of radiation therapy, and then chemotherapy, to fight an aggressive brain tumor. Richard eventually died in July this year.
To celebrate his life, an exhibition A LIFE IN ART is currently on show at the Depot Gallery at Danks Street, Waterloo. The show is a collection of Richard’s sculptural reliefs and other objects made over the last ten years. On Saturday November 11 between 2pm and 4pm, a small drinks party will be staged to celebrate Richard’s life.
When people die, it’s always great to remember a time when you met them, something they said or did that made you laugh. We can’t say that Richard McMillan was a friend of The Art Life, or that we knew him very well, but as one of those people you meet along the way, he was a fantastic person to know. Let’s then finish with this. One windy morning we had run out of coffee at The Art Life office. Forced out into the freezing street we staggered to the corner shop. As ever, being the last person in the world you would expect to see on Oxford Street at 8am, who should come walking up the street but Richard McMillan. He came from an older generation of art world types and as such, we only ever understood about ten per cent of what he said. Richard, true to form, told us some stupendous gossip about people we had no idea about, to wit; “I was at Michael Reid’s house and I was talking to Jenny Scott and she introduced me to this guy from New York who was making a TV show about auctions called “You’re In It” – he’d just come from Paris where he was trying to secure rights to coverage of the Andre Breton sale – it seems Teeny Duchamp or someone – actually, I think it was Breton’s daughter by his first wife – had got in contact… Anyway, Jenny introduced me to this guy and we swapped business cards – and did you see Jenny’s article in Australian Art Collector called My First Time? I mean, do they have no shame?”* Etc and on and on. We had no idea what he was talking about but it was delivered with such gusto that we were fascinated. It was like being in Andy Warhol’s diaries or maybe a page out of Exposures.
Farewell Richard McMillan.
Richard McMillan 1944 – 2006
A LIFE IN ART
Sculptural reliefs and other objects
Depot 1, 2 Danks Street, Waterloo
Tuesday 7th – Saturday 11th November 2006
Gallery Hours: 11.00 – 5.00pm
* Details of this conversation not recorded verbatim.