Townscapes and landscapes and the creatures that inhabited them, all form part of the imagery that John Santry is famous for.
One of the first Australian artists to paint rural and urban scenes, his drawing skills and discipline allowed him to capture the areas he frequented, in a style unique to himself.
With his figure studies, he was able to find that hint of larrikin that permeates Australian society. His pastoral landscapes (that were usually painted on a Saturday) contain a serenity and stillness that became his hallmark.
Before the arrival of the émigré artists from Europe, the landscape was the main source of inspiration for the locals. Santry along with fellow members of the Northwood Group would pack their kits on most Saturday mornings and head to the countryside to paint. They wouldn’t return until dusk. George Lawrence, Lloyd Rees and Roland Wakelin were the other members and Douglas Dundas occasionally joined them.
They were sober trips, full of fun and work, with the ritual baked rabbit, pickled onion and bread roll being the meal of the day. The camaraderie between the group remained until the last. At some times they were each others crutch and at others a source of amusement. Wakelin would say “what’s the point in having friends if you can’t poke fun at them.”
Drawing skills and figurative work set Santry apart from the others. He conducted drawing classes from his home on Thursday afternoons and two of his early students were Brett Whiteley and Michael Johnson. He thought Whiteley was a talented showman with a great ability to draw portraits and Johnson equally as gifted though quieter.
Both established profiles much higher than his. He was never envious and drew comfort from his early and significant influence in their development.
Santry didn’t pursue critical success and never worked with large canvases. He had little need, as he was able to capture the breadth of the landscape on a small panel, and the spirit of a person with a few brush strokes.
He wasn’t a showman he was just quiet and disciplined, with a fine sense of humour.