When Eve and I first stepped through the front door of artist Greg Irvine’s incredible South Melbourne home, we were, in short, dumbfounded. We wandered from room to room, mouths open, casting our eyes in disbelief over Greg’s truly remarkable and seemingly endless collections of antique furniture, Victorian ceramics and tableware, glassware, enamelware, tortoiseshell and bakelite objects, vintage fabrics, suitcases, decorative boxes, jewellery and antique purses… the list goes on, and on, and on! It is a ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience, a truly magical space that feels a little like stumbling absent-mindedly into some kind of alternate universe. It’s also completely at odds with the comparatively unremarkable exterior of this three bedroom Victorian weatherboard home.
But don’t be deceived. This is not the home of a hoarder. Greg’s collections are tightly controlled. The rule is ‘if I can’t display it, I don’t own it’ – he’s not interested in simply amassing things and squirrelling them away. Each collection is carefully considered, and artfully displayed. To Greg, they are installations – curated, and meticulously well kept. There is not a skerrick of dust to be seen, either, which I know seems unfathomable, but it’s true. Greg takes ‘house proud’ to new heights.
For Greg, collecting is an extension of his artwork – collecting, displaying and being surrounded by beautiful things is paramount to his practice. Indeed, there is a great deal of crossover between Greg’s eclectic home and his meticulously detailed paintings. His favourite household objects often find their way onto his canvases, whilst vintage fabrics often influence the patterns and colours in his works. If not surrounded by beauty, he reasons, he ‘might as well curl up in a ball and die’. Passionate words, from a very passionate aesthete!
Greg has lived here for ten years. The house is heritage listed – a 150 year old weatherboard, and one of the oldest free standing houses built in South Melbourne. Originally, it would have stood on a rural allotment, and was owned by a blacksmith (when renovating, Greg uncovered a mass of various horseshoes beneath the original floorboards!).
When Greg first purchased the home, it was, he says, ‘a dump’. He engaged a builder to restore the home. and make a few minor updates. The main living and kitchen area was opened up to form one large living space. The bedrooms and living spaces were painted, but the original hallway and front room were left in original condition with their raw timber panelling and an original iron fireplace. Greg was keen to retain as many of the original features as could be salvaged – doors, timber floorboards and wall panelling were all retained. Incredibly, the bathroom is also in near-original condition, retaining the original bath, bath surround, shower head and decorative pressed metal ceiling. ‘Every effort was made to maintain the integrity of the house during the modifications’ says Greg.
With such a mind-bogglingly impressive collection of furniture, artwork, antiques and collectibles, it’s not easy for Greg to isolate favourites amongst his possessions. ‘How long do you have!?’ he says. He’s particularly fond of his tortoiseshell comb collection, displayed beautifully on his bedroom wall, reaching all the way to the ceiling. He loves the magnificent antique cobalt blue mirror in the main living area, which he says once adorned an Indian Maharajah’s palace! The enormous green glass chandelier from India is another treasured favourite – ‘it miraculously arrived intact as many are damaged en route to Australia, and is a main feature in the dining room’ says Greg.
Having exhibited his work extensively since the early 80’s, and gaining great notoriety in the mid 90’s, Greg’s artwork is recognisable to many Melbournians. (Who remembers his painted sculptures and mosaics in Acland street, St Kilda back in the mid 90’s!?). His latest collection of paintings will be exhibited at Hawthorn Studio and Gallery in a show which opens this Saturday, and runs until the end of the month. Well worth a look! They are even more amazing in person.
New Paintings by Greg Irvine
November 8th – 29th, 2014
Hawthorn Studio and Gallery
635 Burwood rd
ALSO. We are thrilled to launch a brand new VIDEO to accompany today’s story! We’ve collaborated with talented local filmmaker Paris Thomson of SIRAP once again, to produce this 3 minute motion snapshot of Greg’s home, his collections and his artwork. You’ll find it just below. We couldn’t imagine a more entertaining and inspiring subject – and how about that voiceover!? Thank you for your patience Greg!