Starting at age 8 using pencils, Textas and a small watercolour set is how Tasmanian born Ted Dansey began his artistic career. Ted is now 64, and an accomplished artist, but his path has been anything but straightforward. He grew up in Glenroy, a working class suburb north of Melbourne. Once he finished school his sole objective was, “to find a job that pays”, he says, all the while keeping it as creatively stimulating as possible. He did ticket writing for a haberdashery and clothing store, he made olive oil cans in a factory and worked in a track gang laying sleepers for the railways. In the evenings Ted studied sign writing and illustrative graphic design.
His artistic ability and new qualifications landed him work as an illustrative graphic designer for the railways, creating signs such as 'Victoria on the move.' During this time he continued to paint at home, but with oils at this stage, until one day, "watercolour found me", he explains. He came across a brochure that suggested watercolour painting could improve your oil painting skills. He was intrigued and gave it a go. "It took me back to my childhood" he says. "I took to it easily and then made the switch from oils."
He admires the styles of American artist J. S. Sargent and Australian R.W. Sturgess. Both of these artists captured brilliant light, reflections and movement while retaining delicate stillness. This aspect of watercolour is what seduced and excited Ted. "It's how you can retain light and transparency that is so unique to watercolour painting, you need to know ahead what outcome you want and you need to be prepared to lose paintings,” he explains.
Ted has exhibited his exquisitely luminous and often moody watercolour paintings widely and has also won several art prizes during his career, the most recent one being the prestigious ANL Maritime Awards 2017 for his painting titled Workhorse on the Orwell.
He spends most of his time painting and much to his surprise, teaching! “Teaching just happened,” he says. And that’s how I met Ted. I was one of his students. We would all stand around him and watch in awe as he dipped his wet brush – with just the perfect amount of water in it every time – into the paint and onto the paper to create magic. He's an unassuming and laid-back character, and has such a cool approach to watercolour painting, which we all found very appealing.
While we’re sitting in a cafe near his home in Strathmore I notice a faded tattoo on his finger. “Is that the only one you have Ted?” He flashes a cheeky smile and says, "I've got more on my chest, back, arms and legs. I remember my Mum said, ‘you'll regret them one day,’ but I haven't. They’re just a part of me, I sometimes forget they're there."
So what really drew Ted to this seemingly delicate, light and translucent painting style? Ted explains there’s actually an aspect to watercolour many people don’t realise; “It's risk taking, it's like the bungee jumping of art, you just have to go for it, commit to it and it may or may not work out. There’s a rush and an intensity you experience that you don't get when you do oil paintings."
Ted is a no bullshit sort of guy. He’s working class neighbourhood demanded certain toughness in work and play but he managed to meld that successfully with his artistic side. The side that has an eye for detail, an appreciation for light, and the skill of brilliantly placed brush strokes.
To see one of his paintings come to life is an experience in itself. He does all of this with utter confidence, commitment and with a sound understanding of colour. He says he loves working in the outdoors, “it’s real, and nature is one of my greatest motivators. You get a sense of freedom, you see things differently and the light is different outside," he says. "The range of tones narrow and you feel the atmosphere, you paint the experience; it's better than yoga! Sometimes there might even be someone standing behind me and I wouldn't have a clue."
Iconic Australian scenery often informs Ted’s work; the bush, beaches and country towns but he also paints cityscapes after the rain and in fading light. However his latest exhibition FIVE, currently showing at the historic newly renovated Victorian Artists Society also includes paintings from a recent trip to the UK and China. Ted is a dedicated long time member, teacher, former manager and a Fellow of the Society.