It’s thought to be a depiction of the netted swimming area at Parsley Bay in Vaucluse near where the artist and his wife Enid lived, and in the left foreground Enid is featured wearing red swimmers and a large sun hat. Although it was completed in 1941, more than 50 years after the French Impressionist Georges Seurat was painting, the brush strokes in the water reminded me a little of his pointillism style.
Another pool painting that caught my eye was an 1881 depiction of the Old Domain Baths by an artist with the initials EFB. In the painting we look through the trees to the western side of Woolloomooloo Bay where the baths were built in 1858 and where the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool is located today. The work has a soft, European feel that was typical of artists in the Sydney colony in the first half of the nineteenth century. The exhibition’s digital program said Sydney City Council built the free baths as a public health measure and although some people swam there, most used the baths to keep clean in the days before indoor plumbing.
Before I left the library, I bought a postcard of Herbert Badham’s The Swimming Enclosure and when I walked out on to Macquarie Street, I started thinking about all the artists I’d discovered on Instagram who paint and draw pools like Gina Fishman.
He’s been doing it for the past 15 years since he moved back to Sydney from New York and at the end of last year I met him at the Shapiro Gallery in Woollahra where he was exhibiting his work.
He calls Wylie’s the most beautiful pool imaginable, a delight and an escape where he swims four times a week out of a pleasure and a need both physically and mentally. Sometimes he draws swimmers about to dive in the water, sitting by the side of the pool or battling the waves on a big sea day.
Other times he sketches the timber structures above and around the pool, the movement of the water and the sandstone rocks.
I love the simplicity of Matthew’s drawings and the way he catches a moment in time, just before a swimmer dives in or as they lift their arm and turn their head to breath.
“At Wylie’s I just try and make a beautiful drawing of what I see in front of me,” says Matthew.
“Wylie’s has been a real delight and escape for me and I’m very happy and relaxed when I’m drawing there – it’s like a meditation.”
In this video made for the Museum of Sydney’s exhibition, Sand in the City, December 2016-July 2017, Matthew talks more about his drawings and there’s beautiful scenes of Wylie’s Baths.