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- December 2016 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Naval Historical Society was recently privileged to receive a presentation by the renowned maritime artist Ian Hansen. We journeyed far and wide as Ian outlined a remarkable career and, we came away a little wiser about the vital connection between artist and the marine environment.
Ian was born on a rural property near Bordertown, South Australia in 1948. A few years later, with work on the land taking its toll on his father’s health, his parents sold up and moved to Queensland where, before large scale development, he had an idyllic upbringing on the foreshore of Hervey Bay. It was here that his love of ships and the sea developed. He was always in the water, becoming a keen swimmer and with Dad’s help soon had his own small dinghy. Both these skills were invaluable in a later naval career.
Ian’s mother noted and nurtured an artistic temperament and encouraged her young son to draw. By the age of eight Ian was busy experimenting with water colours and, as an 11th birthday present, received a set of artist’s oil paints. Other birthday gifts were cast aside and he was in his element – the journey had begun. The first public outing came in 1961, when aged 13, Ian’s work was shown at the Wide Bay & Burnett Exhibition of Art. He took 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in the Children’s Section, but not content with this accolade he also won the overall prize for Champion Picture in the Exhibition.
When aged 15 Ian applied for an apprenticeship with the Royal Australian Navy and was amongst 22 successful candidates from Queensland; he recalls that all but one of these boys was country bred. After initial recruit training at HMAS Nirimba he became an apprentice shipwright also at Nirimba. The youngster readily settled into the new routine and, as a well built lad with large hands, was encouraged into boxing, at which he became the local champion.
Ian completed a 12 year engagement, reaching the rank of Chief Petty Officer serving in various ships and establishments including HMA Ships Anzac, Kuttabul, Penguin, Stalwart, Sydney, Tarangau and Teal, and saw active-service in Vietnam. Ian also qualified as a ship’s diver. The boxing career continued and as navy light middleweight champion he was pitted against the other services and the best in the Pacific Islands. He was a contender for Olympic selection but as an injury kept him out he put the gloves away; this disappointment for sport was a great blessing for art. Towards the end of his naval service those in power started to recognise Chippy’s other talents and in Stalwart the little used emergency operating theatre, which also doubled as the barber’s shop, became Ian’s temporary studio.
Ian developed a great characteristic known to many junior officers in his ability to maintain a journal. On one page is written a description of his travels and on the opposite page there is a sketch or two. These could quickly be filled with water colours. From these preliminary works, which capture the moment and vitality of the scene, many an oil painting was developed. In Ian’s opinion this essential quality of time and place produces a more realistic and vibrant outcome than from copying photographic images.
Friends, family and shipmates liked Ian’s paintings and he could sell them for a few dollars to defray costs. He was encouraged to take a few examples to a Sydney gallery which promptly selected two paintings, for which he was offered more than he could make in a month working as a Shipwright. These sold quickly and he was asked for more. In 1974 Prouds Gallery in Sydney offered him his first one man exhibition which was a great success. This convinced Ian that when his naval engagement expired in 1975, he should try his luck in the competitive world of being a full-time artist.
After a brief stint of cruising and painting aboard a 38 foot yacht he built a studio overlooking the Whitsundays. However with family responsibilities Ian and his wife returned to Sydney in 1981 and eventually settled to bring up a family at Hunters Hill. Here Ian converted some old backyard stables into a studio. He continues to sail a classic timber 45 foot cutter Karalee and crew aboard the barque James Craig.
In 2000 Ian was invited by the RAN to become resident artist in East Timor to record the navy’s involvement in this conflict. Two years later in 2002 he joined the ice-strengthened support ship Sir Hubert Wilkins, recording her voyage to Antarctica. In 2013 Ian was appointed official artist for the International Fleet Review, commemorating the RAN’s centenary. However Ian believes his greatest artistic achievement is in winning six major awards over the past 28 years at the Annual International Maritime Art Exhibition held at Mystic Seaport’s Maritime Gallery. The Gallery appointed him a ‘Premier Artist’ in 2002; world-wide there are only twenty artists in this exclusive category.
Ian’s works are to be found throughout the world in private collections and major galleries such as the Australian National Maritime Museum, Mystic Seaport at Connecticut USA and Kendal Gallery on the Isle of Wight, UK. Works are also hung in Sydney’s Government House and Fleet Headquarters. For those wishing to take a pleasant leisurely visit into the countryside examples of Ian’s paintings are also to be found at the Lady Denman Museum, on the shores of Jervis Bay at Huskisson, and in the Hunter Valley’s delightful Morpeth Gallery.