• Wilamina Russo

Richard Claremont and the screaming baboon

A screaming baboon haunted New South Wales painter Richard Claremont in his youth. Claremont was just 13 when Brett Whiteley won the 1978 Archibald Prize with a self-portrait. “I remember my mum taking me to see Brett Whiteley’s self-portrait, Art, life and the other thing, and it had a huge impact on me.” The portrait, which includes an image of a howling baboon, awakened in Claremont the passion and possibilities of art.

Wanting to nurture that passion, Claremont’s father encouraged him. “When I was about 15, Dad framed up one of my sketches and took it to Prouds Jewellers in downtown Sydney to see if they would hang it on their wall for sale.” Claremont felt the venture on the “dorky side”, but when the call came through within the week advising his sketch had sold, he thought he could be on to something.

That something would have to wait a few decades to take front and centre of Claremont’s life. As with many artists, the need for a steady, stable income took precedence. Life as a postman proved a perfect pursuit, enabling Claremont to hone his creative eye on Shoalhaven’s stunning natural setting.

“I’m one of those painters who walks around everyday with a Terminator style computer screen over my eyes, analysing all the facets of my environment. It’s like a game – how would I paint that street, how would I arrange the tress, which way would the road bend.”

The NSW South Coast where he calls home, is the “lifeblood” of his paintings.

A lifeline to full time painting came in the way of a win in a major Western Australia art prize. Taking home first place, and having spent 29 years in the postal service, in 2017 the time was right to put painting front and centre. When asked how he stays motivated and inspired in his new full-time career, Claremont talks of his daily walks to the beach via a beautiful local lagoon.

“There is something about the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground that can really coax a painting idea into being. It’s quite hypnotic.”

Not entirely a solo pursuit, Claremont’s wife helps guide the creative process. The couple call it the “chin drop barometer”. Claremont says, “I can always tell when she walks in my studio and how wide her mouth is, whether a painting is any good or not. Her advice and criticism are invaluable.”

Like most artists, Claremont claims to be his own worst critic. “There is such a fine line between what seems like absolute genius when you finish the day’s painting and go to bed, and then that almost sickening feeling when you study your work the next morning and wonder what on earth you were thinking!” says Claremont.

Whatever Claremont is thinking, it’s working. With a full schedule of exhibitions, an online art school The Skilled Artist, an Instagram following over seventy thousand, and a loyal tribe of collectors, Claremont is on absolutely on the right track.

You can view and buy Claremont's work at www.richardclaremont.com

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