When all the Good Stuff Happens
Out on the high seas, sailors would tattoo swallows on their hands if a shipmate drowned - so the swallows could fly the dead sailor’s soul to heaven. “The swallow tattoo, that’s my brother. Paul died when he was 43,” explains David Bromley, one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. “One of the first memories in my life is my brother toying with a spark plug. I was never that sophisticated.”
In May, Bromley launched his latest venture on East street in Daylesford; Boon Bromley - a furniture collaboration with Hans Boon, a fellow Dutchman and “old-school mate.” The result is a fusion of Bromley’s firework mind - a kaleidoscopic ode to youthful wonder, with Hans Boon’s refined European craftsmanship. But for Bromley, the business is something of an unrealised dream.
“My brother was a fitter and turner, and would make my push bikes suddenly have motors in them. I’d part pedal and part motor to school to the jeers of my mates.” When Bromley turned 15, he nicked off from school and took up an apprenticeship as a signwriter. “I did two dimensional things, my brother was three dimensional. I could design and make things with colour and brushes. Paul could make things out of anything.”
Bromley’s imagination comes to life in remembrance. “My brother passed suddenly and I had no one to make the stuff I would dream of.” Bromley is, as we all are, trying to be like his hero. Looking up from the inky swallow that seems to be fading, he tells me, “He was my older brother, but he’s younger now.”
In Bromley’s studio, there’s a clutter of paintings that light up the room with youthful serenity; the kids are dancing off the canvases, as though no one is watching - fleeting in colour, magic and freedom. “There’s that stage in your life when you just don’t care, that’s when all the good stuff happens doesn’t it?”
For Bromley’s collaborator Hans, the furniture he crafts is rooted in his understanding of home. “My dad is a carpenter. He was a builder and worked as a joiner. So I went to his class, while he was still teaching. I trained as a builder in Holland. It’s a six year course.”
Hans remembers handing his father some screws, when they worked on an extension of their family home together. “We are always creating, us humans,” says Hans, his towering frame an obvious misfit for his shy and mischievous personality. “The most important thing I learnt from my dad was to just do it. If you start something, you finish it. Stop talking about it and do it. Some people have all the plans but they just never do it.”
Bromley interjects with his contagious laughter, “People are always like, ‘oh but he’s really humble.’ What does that mean? I don’t give a shit if someone’s not humble. Hans knows how good he is.” We sit beneath the first piece Boon Bromley made together, the Luna chair offsets it’s angular modern design with the textured layering of plies. “We just oscillate. I imagine. He imagines. We imagine. He makes.”
Bromley’s artwork brings furniture to life in a new way, the designs conjure the energy of making art for the first time because to him that is the feeling of the good ol’ days, it’s nostalgic - the breeze while riding your new bike, the smell of dry paint on your art smock or the expression of mates after cooking for them that first time.
As Bromley reads a letter about his Boon Bromley collaboration, his voice echoes around the studio longing for his lost brother. The solemn honesty of his colloquial words reduces the room to silence and tears. “I’ve hardly cried. But I reckon I cried a lifetime of tears over my brother because he was my only sibling. I said at his funeral, ‘I thought I had ten brothers.’ He was a lunatic.” The best minds are.
39 East Street, Daylesford
0400 189 103
STORY BY MAHMOOD FAZAL, PHOTOS BY SEAN MCDONALD