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June 10, 2011 10:04 pm

A world of art

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Australian artist Tim Maguire’s own grand tour didn’t always involve a Champagne lifestyle

Australian artist Tim Maguire is known internationally for monumental flower paintings and “colour separations” in which he explores the nature of pictorial illusion – and he has recently added light-box and video work to his catalogue. His adventurous work is matched by his approach to property.

 
Tim Maguire and Adrienne Gaha

Tim Maguire and his wife and fellow artist Adrienne Gaha

For most of the past 20 years Maguire has lived in Europe. Now 52, he moved to France in 1993 after winning the Moët & Chandon Fellowship for young Australian artists. The prize consisted of the use of a house in the Champagne village of Épernay for a year – complete with crates of house champagne delivered to the door, “like milk bottles”, he says.

Already a lover of wine and good food – and never much of an enthusiast for surfing – he fell for the French lifestyle, and the move became permanent.

At that stage he had already spent 10 years roaming Europe, the US and Australia, dragging his initially reluctant wife and fellow artist Adrienne Gaha, and latterly their children Max and Lilly, along for the ride. But Maguire traces his wanderlust back to his teenage years.

“Australia was a funny place to grow up in the 1970s as a male if you weren’t into sport,” he explains in the studio he rents in Notting Hill, west London. “I felt pretty isolated culturally.” Having dropped out of a history of art course at Sydney University, he spent a couple of years living a hand-to-mouth existence alongside “drug addicts and derelicts” in squats and cheap flats in inner Sydney or Bondi Beach. Each week he would spend half his dole cheque on second-hand books, immersing himself in European and American literature: “The disconnect between the world I was reading about and the world I was living in was so extreme that I became convinced I would have to get away from Australia.”

His sense of cultural dislocation was re-affirmed at art school, where the tutors looked to Europe and the US for news of the international contemporary art world. “There was a sense that if you were going to prove yourself as an artist, you needed to pit yourself against the big boys in London or New York,” he says. He admired some of his tutors but had no desire to teach. “I calculated Australia didn’t have a big enough collector base to sustain a career as an artist,” he says. “I might have my year or two in the sun, like my tutors, but never a career funded by my art.”

At 25, he won a travel scholarship from the Australia Council, the national arts funding board, and studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf under the Dutch conceptual artist Jan Dibbets, whose only stipulation was that Maguire spend at least half his time touring Europe to look at art. The travelling was hugely rewarding, life in Düsseldorf less so: visa complications meant Maguire was unable to rent a flat legally, so he spent Europe’s coldest winter for a generation in unheated accommodation normally rented out at extortionate rates to illegal Turkish Gastarbeiter (guest workers).

Returning to Australia, he immediately started plotting his next big trip – a pattern that was to be repeated over the next few years. Extended working trips, usually focused on a show, took him and his growing family to New York, the Isle of Wight and London.

The Moët & Chandon win came just as Maguire had begun to worry that his career had stalled – that his own day in the sun was over. He had reached the age of 35 – the cut-off for the Moët prize – and entered on the final day with his first big flower painting. “The paint was still wet on the canvas,” he says.

The year in France was a success: commercial galleries in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands offered him shows, and the children were initiated into the French school system. So the family moved to an old farmhouse in the Loire Valley, which they modernised gradually as Maguire’s career prospered.

If the family took to French country life, the rigid French education system was less welcoming to Anglophone pupils. “People think it’s easy for children,” says Maguire. “They think children pick up a new language so fast, but it doesn’t work like that – it was a real struggle.”

They moved to Paris in the search for a bigger range of schools, keeping the house in the Loire for weekends and holidays. For secondary school the family decided, with some reluctance, to cross the Channel to England. For the children, this proved to be a linguistic homecoming: “Throughout all their years in junior school in France, they had both insisted that they were Australian,” Maguire says. “It took them about five minutes to go native when they arrived in England.”

Today, both children are students in London, and Maguire and Gaha own a townhouse near Hyde Park. They also have an apartment in Sydney. By 2007 the family base in the Loire was surrounded by new-build housing, so they sold up and all but abandoned their French idyll, renting for the summer instead.

Last year, however, an advertisement for a deserted château further south caught their eye – it was so run down that they could afford it. Built around a tower dating from 1237, Château de Mondenard is in Quercy, between the Dordogne and Toulouse, a region listed as “undiscovered” in a guidebook from the 1880s, Maguire says.

On his first visit to the château, he was struck by an extraordinary feeling: “I walked into one of the bedrooms, and it occurred to me that this was a room I would be happy to die in.” They bought the château, taking on a restoration project that will last for years, although it should be “summer habitable” and have functional studio space this year.

Expat life suits him, Maguire reflects, although with a tinge of guilt about its effect on the family. “You do wonder what the cost was to them,” he says.

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Buying Guide

Pros

The French lifestyle and relatively inexpensive old property in beautiful

surroundings

Starting a new life in a new country

Convenience for international career, and for the cultural assets of Europe

Broader circle of friends around the world

Cons

The French education system

Uprooting the family

Rural France is not very welcoming to outsiders, so you end up in an expat scene whether you want to or not

Isolation from the art scene: you’re out of the loop without your peer group of artists, and out of regular contact with curators

Local estate agent

Lauzerte en Quercy Immobilier

Place du Faubourg d ‘Auriac

82110 Lauzerte

tel: +33 (0)5 63 94 78 21

e-mail: lauzerte@quercy-immobilier.com

sites: www.quercy-immobilier.com

What you can buy for

€100,000 will buy a three-storey, three-bedroom stone house with original features “to restore” in the medieval hill town of Lauzerte

€1m will buy four-bedroom country house restored by an architect 20 years ago on four hectares of land, with swimming pool, Jacuzzi and outbuildings including stables

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