A new exhibition honours the life of artist Patrick Carroll

LEGACY: Rachel Carroll (right), with her sister Jemima Carroll, in her northern beaches home with paintings by their well known artist father Patrick Carroll. Picture: DALLAS KILPONEN
LEGACY: Rachel Carroll (right), with her sister Jemima Carroll, in her northern beaches home with paintings by their well known artist father Patrick Carroll. Picture: DALLAS KILPONEN

TWO AND A HALF years after he died in a horrific fire in his studio, Patrick Carroll's family can finally show a retrospective of the famous artist's work.

A familiar face in the northern beaches, where he began his career in the 1970s in an organised but chaotic studio next to his home in Frenchs Forest, Carroll was best known for his striking landscapes. He had more than 60 solo shows - including two at the Manly Art Gallery - and received more than 100 awards in his lifetime. He was also an inspiring teacher.

But he tragically lost his life, aged 69, as he worked alone in his Central Coast studio one Sunday afternoon in October 2019, finishing his submission for that year's Manly Art Prize, due the very next day, with a theme of 'My Studio, My Home'. His studio was on the first floor of the Ebbtide Mall, which was set alight by a 13-year-old child.

Carroll was dragged unconscious from the building - which had security screens on the windows - and could not be revived.

For the family, the saga didn't end there, as they were soon to learn that a cleaner contracted to make the studio safe before they could enter ended up making off with valuable paintings, sketches, sculptures and statues, plus a goblet, watch, trophy and camera. It took several months and a police task force to get them back.

Mr Carroll's daughter, Rachel - also an artist - said the last two years had been emotional for the family.

"It has been quite a lot to deal with. You think when someone passes that's it, but as a family we have had a two year saga of firstly accessing the art and then getting it out," she said.

"Police, fire and then insurance wouldn't let us get in to look at what could be saved and there was no roof so the rain was coming in. It was a crime scene and then for insurance they had to assess the safety."

She described her father as unconventional. "He had his own style and charisma but he was a people's person: he loved teaching people and engaging them with his enthusiasm for art and life," she said. "For him, art and life were entwined, the two were inseparable."

His family still live on the northern beaches, and Rachel works out of a studio in Beacon Hills.

"He won the Warringah Art Prize in the 1980s and last time I checked, it was hanging in the Council Chambers at Dee Why," said Rachel.

"He always used to say there were 'no bad subjects' and he aimed to show the everyday in a completely new way. A lot of his peers joked because he would always tackle the not necessarily most beautiful subjects - he often challenged himself with those unconventional subjects. You would revisit a park or a tree but the way he encouraged you to turn around and look at it, it was like you were seeing it for the first time."

Ms Carroll said it was always a dream for him to exhibit an overview of his life's work in the one place, and this exhibition features works from the 1970s to now. "As soon as the fire occurred we knew we had a job to do," she said. "It's a celebration of his entire career. It's time to share a happy story of his new exhibition, showcasing the work we saved, and some of the work we got back."

For Rachel, it is also a reminder of what drives her. After the fire, she quit her job at Northern Beaches Council in order to concentrate on her art. "I wish I had been braver earlier," she said. "Working on the exhibition has been a lovely reminder of why I'm doing art and what he's taught me. He will always be here and that's the joy of being an artist."

  • 'My Studio, My Home', by Patrick Carroll, runs at Rochfort Gallery in North Sydney from May 11-June 25.

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