A prolific playwright, author and artist, Dickins has won more prizes than any other Australian author, including the Prime Minister’s Medal for Literature.
Now, he’s turned to charcoal to pay homage to two of his greatest inspirations: Renaissance art and his hometown of Reservoir.
The product of his passion is ‘A Regent Renaissance’, a captivating collection of charcoal drawings which refer directly to the style of the Renaissance, while also reflecting the rebirth and revitalisation of Reservoir (to which the pocket of Regent belongs).
The collection was inspired by a serendipitous moment in a second-hand bookshop in Camberwell, when Dickins was charmed by the artists of the Renaissance.
“I found a treasure trove of Renaissance books and that’s where it all started,” he explains.
“Seeing the colour palettes and the line drawings of Michelangelo, Raphael and [Antonio da] Correggio, you become so involved in the rhythms of the work and the possibilities of drawing.”
Upon discovering the splendour of the Renaissance, Dickins began studying everything there is to know about the fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” for his new collection.
One of the drawings that will be on display in the exhibition. (Photo supplied)
His research included reading Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari, which is considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.
First published in 1550, the book contains interviews with Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian.
“The defining characteristic of Renaissance art is the relationship between the portrait and the viewer,” Dickins says.
“There’s something welcoming about the image and the design takes you into the stories.
“I try as hard as I can to have a new story in every drawing.”
Dickins practised working with charcoal for more than 18 months to perfect his pictures and “all the effects you can achieve with just charcoal on paper”.
“My flat is full of dust and chalk and broken bits of willow,” he says.
“Charcoal is the most mystical medium: you think it’s just a dry stick from a willow tree, but I’ve learnt over the last few years that you can get any effect on the spectrum using charcoal.”
Dickins also honed his skills in chiaroscuro, working with the “deepest blacks and most sparkling whites” to breathe life into his masterpieces, all of which were specially created for the exhibition at Reservoir’s first ever art gallery.
The talented artist was born and raised in Reservoir and, despite having lived in Sydney and New York for stints, he has since returned home to the dynamic suburb.
“I think it’s such a brilliant thing to open a gallery somewhere like Regent because I grew up without there being galleries or bookshops,” he says.
“It can be a cultural desert out there.
“I think this marks a cultural renaissance of the area and that’s why I chose the word ‘Renaissance’ in the title of my collection.”
Reservoir is traditionally made up of working-class Italian migrants who moved to the northern suburbs of Melbourne once they got “on their feet” in Australia.
Like most working-class suburbs, Reservoir was long void of trendy restaurants, cafes, clothing stores and art galleries.
However, that’s all changing.
With the sons and daughters of migrant families slowly taking over the suburb, there’s a new demand for excitement and culture in its streets.
Reservoir is rapidly becoming the “hip” place to live, with new cafes on every corner... And now, its first art gallery.
It seems that Dickins is to the renaissance of Reservoir what da Vinci was to the Italian Renaissance... And we can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the flourishing suburb and one of its most acclaimed natives.
‘A Regent Renaissance’ will show at Salon Art Gallery from May 1 to 22, 2019. For more information visit the gallery’s website.