Geelong artisan, 98, creates order from chaos

Jack Bayley with his artwork in his central Geelong home studio. (Ivan Kemp) 244351_01

By Luke Voogt

Jack Bayley, 98, began his love of art by sketching a Clydesdale horse from a black and white photo in an Encyclopedia Britannica, loaned from his principal.

Eight-six years later, the Geelong great-grandfather still remembers entering the drawing in the Royal Melbourne Show at age 12.

“My mother said I was the best, of course, but I didn’t get any prize,” the retired industrial chemist laughed.

It was not until Jack hit his 80s, when his wife fell ill with cancer, that he rediscovered that passion.

“She had a get-well card sent to her,” he said.

“After I drew [a copy of] it, I thought, ‘I ought to take some lessons’.”

Jack found an experienced art teacher and soon developed his own unique style.

“In all the 50 years he’d been teaching, he said he’d never seen anybody paint as prolifically I did,” he said.

Sadly, his teacher died two years ago, but his wife is still going despite doctors having “written her off” and a recent fall, according to Jack.

Together they have 17 grandchildren and Jack, who has “lost count” of their great-grandchildren, plans to paint “till I die”.

“Time is very limited,” he said.

He is also hoping for an end to the latest Victorian lockdown with his work currently on display in his new exhibition Nature’s Contemporary at Artisans of Australia in Drysdale.

“I call it ‘the academy’,” Jack said.

The gallery, which opened in November 2019 just months before COVID-19 hit, has given Jack’s exhibition, initially scheduled to end on July 29, a free two-week extension.

“The gallery down in Drysdale really needs some help,” he said.

“I think what they’ve done down here is very courageous.”

Nature’s Contemporary, curated by Jack’s granddaughter Julia White, invites viewers to delve into the many layers of landscapes, viewing the “equilibrium that nature creates from chaos”.

“I believe nature is here for order,” Jack said.

“You can rely on nature – it’s not heading for chaos, it’s heading for order, and that’s my message.”

The exhibition features unique patterns on recycled paper, like one resembling the top of a snow-covered forest.

“It’s a bird’s eye view,” Jack agreed.

Although his methods remain a mystery.

“I’ve been bugged for years and years about what I do in my retirement,” he said.

“I show them some samples because I can’t explain it in words.

“I tell my friends nature did the drawings. They walk away thinking I’ve gone around the bend!”

The work delves into Chaos Theory, pioneered by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, and Jack’s belief “God is alive”.

“If Benoit Mandelbrot was here today, and he saw this on the wall, I reckon I could sell him this idea,” he said.

“I believe it is metaphysical, the work is dynamic and takes on a life of its own. I never know what’s going to happen next.”