Bryan Dawe’s new art exhibition Passage traces time in Tangier after death of John Clarke

Source: ABC News

 

Bryan Dawe at his exhibition Passage, Bungendore, July 2018
Photo: Bryan Dawe’s art is inspired by his time in Tangier, Morocco. (ABC Radio Canberra: Louise Maher)

Bryan Dawe is passionate about many things in his life, including friendship, art and port towns.

The comedian and writer grew up in Port Adelaide, and sought solace in the ancient Moroccan port of Tangier after the sudden death in 2017 of his longtime friend and collaborator John Clarke.

Dawe had been overwhelmed by the public’s outpouring of grief.

“I couldn’t go anywhere … where I wasn’t discussing it,” he said at the gallery where his new art exhibition has opened.

“It was only [in Tangier] that I was able to stand back and put John and I and our relationship into perspective.

“I can’t even explain how much he is missed in my life.”

Dawe is well known to Australian television audiences as one half of the satirical duo Clarke and Dawe.

For more than 25 years, their weekly mock interviews poked fun at the vagaries of politics and the pomposity of politicians.

But Dawe’s current work is a world away from the machinations in Canberra.

His exhibition Passage features artworks inspired by two recent stays in Tangier, a city on the Strait of Gibraltar that has served for centuries as a gateway between Africa and Europe.

Surreal view of city’s rich culture

 

Initially, Dawe spent time in the inland city of Fes, house-sitting for Australian friends.

But he felt more at home in Tangier, where he took up residence in an apartment overlooking the main square.

“If you [get] a bit depressed during winter or whatever, you just open the door and walk out and you’re just happy again because there’s just so much going on there.”

Dawe said he “fell in love” with the city’s history and architecture — the busy market squares, old cafes and abandoned theatres — and with the humour and warmth of the people.

“The film Casablanca was really about Tangier,” he said.

“During the lead-up to the [Second World] War … [there was] a place called Café de Paris opposite the French embassy, and that was the hub of every German, French, English and American spy … pirates, the lot.”

 

Later in the 20th century the city was a drawcard for writers such as William Burroughs and Truman Capote, as well as leading bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Dawe said the legendary hotel El Minzah still displayed photographs of its celebrity guests.

“You name them — Elizabeth Taylor, Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson — everybody that came there.”

Dawe’s art, which is a mix of photography, collage and digital painting, is often whimsical, surreal or humorous.

“People are really surprised,” he said.

“And I think, ‘Well, I’m going to keep on doing this so get used to it’.”

Though he still misses Clarke’s humour, view of the world and regular comic emails, Dawe is coming to terms with his loss.

“I think what it did for me was to think, ‘Damn, you were blessed to have had that for so long’.”

Passage is on show at the Bungendore Woodworks Gallery until the end of July.

It will open at the Arnold Street Gallery in Bendigo in September and at the Meeniyan Gallery in Gippsland in November.