Naive painter James Fardoulys was born in Greece in 1900 and came to Australia in 1914. His work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Queensland Art Gallery.
Dimitrios Nikolois (James Nicholas) Fardoulys was born at Potamos, on the Grecian Island of Kythera in 1900 the youngest of the four sons born to Nikolois Fardoulys and Rosini née Konninos. Opportunities for the next generation were limited in this farming community so he was sent to Australia at the outbreak of WWI, aged fourteen years. His journey was disrupted by an enforced stay in Colombo before he finally made his way to Warwick where he was under the care of an uncle, Mick Catsoulis. For the next twelve years he worked in cafes in Queensland and New South Wales including the Golden Gate Café, Southport, which he operated for a year in 1922. He also worked on farms and sheep stations which were later to be the inspiration of some of his paintings.
In 1925 Fardoulys married Gladys Elizabeth Mary Knight (1904-70) who performed as a ventriloquist with a travelling troupe and joined them in their tours of country Queensland and northern New South Wales. Later they operated the Olympia Café in Goondiwindi (then owned by Mick Catsoulis) until it burned down in 1931. The family, which now included two girls and two boys, settled in Brisbane the same year and for the next twenty-nine years Fardoulys worked as a taxi driver.
It was after his retirement and following the example of his fellow naïve artist Charles Callins (1887-1982) that he took up painting seriously in 1960. He recalled of his school days in Kythera: “Art was compulsory, and I was pretty good at school as a youngster in black and white. From that I went to oils without any tuition whatever.” He also admitted that when in Brisbane during the early years of the Great Depression “I used to do a little painting to amuse myself and could always sell one for £2 or £3. This kept us going” (in Bruce 1968).
Matilda Joe at Cleveland was included in the HC Richard’s Prize at the Queensland Art Gallery in 1961, the first in what became a significant body of work. He regularly participated in group exhibitions in Brisbane including the Queensland Art Gallery’s HC Richards and LJ Harvey Prizes from 1965 to 1972 and received special encouragement from the members of the Contemporary Art Society of Australia (Queensland Branch). A widely recognised work, Blue Roses , was acquired by Ray Hughes (later a prominent Sydney art dealer) after being exhibited in the Society’s Annual Autumn Exhibition in 1965.
Brisbane’s principal art critic of the period, Dr Gertrude Langer, became familiar with Fardoulys’s work and she awarded him a joint first prize at the 1964 Warana-Caltex Queensland Art Competition for The story of the Nativity in the north-west . She continued to demonstrate her enthusiasm for his work in her review of his first solo exhibition at the Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, two years later – it was a sell out:
“The collection is a joy. Fardoulys has the wonderful innocence and intensity of vision characteristic of the genuine artists of the people. Like them he paints straight from the heart and has no recourse to methods devised by others to express his own feelings… An instinctive sense of sequence, rhythm and balance give his work a charming decorativeness…” (Langer 1966).
Langer also praised his work in the concurrent Warana Caltex Prize and awarded him the 'Traditional oil’ category for The strawberry pickers, Glasshouse Mts for the 1969 exhibition.
Other solo exhibitions of his work were held at the Design Arts Centre, Brisbane, in 1968 and 1970, Bonython Art Gallery, Sydney in 1969 and, jointly with Charles Callins the year following his death, at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 1976.
Although Fardoulys’s work had been well received in Brisbane, he attributed his greatest promotion to the efforts of the humourist Barry Humphries. When Humphries was in Brisbane during October 1965 for his production of Excuse I, Another Nice Night’s Entertainment for J C Williamson Theatres he brought The land of milk and honey from the Contemporary Art Society (Queensland Branch) Annual Interstate Exhibition held at Finney’s Auditorium. Subsequently Humphries wrote from London to commission the portrait used for the cover of his 1968 publication The Barry Humphries book of Innocent Australian Verse ( The Sunday Mail , Brisbane, 16 Oct 1966, p 17). By this time Fardoulys was already represented in the collection Art Gallery of New South Wales; The Cattle rustlers, Carnarvon Ranges was purchased by the gallery after the then Director, Hal Missingham, judged the 1966 HC Richards Memorial Prize.
Fardoulys was very proud of his categorization as a naïve painter and stated his qualifications for being so considered: “I work for depth and clarity as far as the eye can see. You must be able to see all the detail, even from a distance. There is no haze in my paintings.” But he also asserted that “All my paintings are purely imagination, and they all have a story. To be a 'primitive’ you give all the detail and more or less a story as well” (in Bruce 1968). His paintings are distinctive for the colourful palette he favoured. He did not mix colours, generally working directly from the tube without a palette and using very small brushes. Fardoulys’s output was slow as he could only produce one small painting a week, larger works would take two weeks or more if he suffered from his not infrequent attacks of asthma. The sale of works was of great financial advantage as he and his wife relied on the old-age pension. Consequently he found it difficult to assemble enough pieces when he had to pull works together for an exhibition.
As he stated, his works were imaginative, though his imagination was inspired by actual incidents. He heard the story on the ABC of Grace Bussell who in 1876 rode her horse through raging surf to rescue forty-eight people from the steamer Georgette near Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia, and from this story he produced Heroine of the ages – Grace Bussel 1876, which he exhibited first in the Queensland Branch of the Contemporary Art Society in 1964 (P Fardoulys pers. comm. 2009). Imagination also inspired his paintings of key adventures in Australia’s colonial past such as The start of Burke and Wills 1860 ( 1972, Queensland Art Gallery) and Through plain and canyon the Redford drive goes on 1870 (1971, National Gallery of Australia). Although covered wagons were in use in the years of Australian settlement their portrayal in The start of Burke and Wills 1860 and Migration to Queensland 1840 (location unknown), like the occasional vulture in his early works, probably owes more to the influence of western movies.
Pharlap’s win in the 1930 Melbourne Cup had already entered Australian mythology and in 1968 Fardoulys painted The surge of the crowd – the red terror – Melbourne Cup 1930 (location unknown). Fardoulys also essayed paintings on Indigenous people in works such as The story of the Nativity in the North-West , Jedda , A gallery in the Never Never , A tucker walkabout and Indigenous pride as well as imaginative works in The cross currents, Magellan Straits, South Pacific , Symbolism of peace in the Green Vastness and Reincarnation . Despite his assertions of imagination in his works he unashamedly copied images of horses or cattle from newspapers to give a sense of reality to his work ( The Sunday Mail , Brisbane, 16 Oct 1966, p 17) but the disjuncture of these images imparts a great deal of the charm to his works.
His favoured subjects were decorative panels of exotic birds and his part-Persian cat, Doula. He recalled:
“My cat is a famous cat you know. He is in a lot of paintings. They want him. He is about fourteen years of age. He has been painted dozens of times, you know, by request. ... There was an exhibition about a year ago. There were big abstracts on the walls and that sort of thing, and the only painting that sold was my cat.” (in Lehmann 1977, p 58).
Increasingly poor health by 1974 saw Fardoulys’s output much reduced. He died on 15 September 1975 and was interred at the Mt Gravatt Cemetery. Callins and Fardoulys were widely accepted as Queensland’s leading naïve artists: they were paired in an article in The Bulletin in 1968 and were the focus of a survey exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, in 1976.