Erwin Fabian was a friend of my father’s from the time he came to Australia on the same refugee boat as Dad. He was a few years older than most of the younger ones. They were in their late teens. He was 25. He painted a fantastic portrait of Dad when he was in the camp which has only recently come to light. He was a contemporary and friend of artists that you would have heard of during one of the great periods of Australian art such as Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, Danila Vassilieff and Josl Bergner. He was also in London when Boyd was there and a good friend. He is good to talk to on that stuff, and I reckon the National Library should high tail their oral history unit down to his studio and make some recordings.
He’s a charming man with a very soft raspy voice. It’s not his age. He’s sounded like this for as long as I can remember. According Mum he was looked up to by Australian artists with some awe. He was European which presumably added cache for artists in Melbourne in the 1940s and his father also was an artist of some stature in Berlin at the turn of the twentieth century – though he died when Erwin was quite young. Just two or three years ago, there was a retrospective of Erwin’s and his fathers work in Berlin.
He’s now 91 and spends most of his time in a blowy tin warehouse off Errol Street in North Melbourne surrounded in industrial offcuts which he manoeuvres around (if necessary with cranes running from the roof of the warehouse which used to be some panel beater’s I think). He never caught on in the market like Nolan and Boyd, so he’s not famous. But he’s nevertheless kept sculpting and selling his work (at hefty prices!) for a living.
He has a pretty bad hip, but is putting off his hip operation for as long as possible because at his age there’s quite a reasonable chance that the general anaesthetic will do your brain serious harm. But he limps around the studio and beavers away. In the last ten days I’ve been to two openings of his sculpture! The first was a retrospective of sorts – though it was only about twenty pieces of sculpture and some etchings from internment in the 1940s. It was at McClelland Sculpture Park. I’d not been there before and it’s lovely. It’s in Langwarren just before Frankston as you drive down the bay from Melbourne. It looks like a fair bit of the money comes from the Murdoch family who live down the road at Cruden farm and have their names on half the sculpture. Anyway there’s lots of space to walk amongst, lots of sculptures (including a concrete Holden Kingswood stationwagon. And last night there was an opening of an exhibition of Erwin’s scupture at a commercial gallery (Australian Galleries in Collingwood). You may wish to go and see them. You can check out some of the sculptures here and here.
A favourite scupture of mine is over the fold.