A Walkley Award-winning illustrator, artist and art historian who has lived in Italy for over 30 years.
Born in Oxford, Neil grew up in Melbourne and Canberra and has an Honours degree in Fine Arts from the University of Sydney, where he also taught art history in the Power Department of Fine Arts. Pictured as Neil’s profile photo is his latest self portrait.
In 1979 Neil began a new career as an illustrator, and caricaturist, winning a Walkley Award in 1980 for his work in newspapers. In the following decade he travelled in Europe, fascinated first by France and then Italy, and began to produce original work in the medium of etching. In this period he lived in Berlin, had an artist’s residence in Paris, and exhibited in Germany, France, England and Italy.
Since 1988, Neil has lived in an Umbrian hill town, restoring a medieval ruin into a family home and focusing on his work as a painter. For over 20 years, he has designed and led small group cultural tours to Italy, and he brings this extraordinary wealth of experience as a tour leader to his work. In recent years he has won the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Prize (2012) and done caricatures for Australia’s news magazine The Monthly.
We asked Neil, what he enjoys most about leading tour groups?
“It enables me to see through fresh eyes what I might otherwise start to take for granted. I’ve been living in Italy now for more than thirty years but it still seems to me an exotic place, and I’m sure this is partly to do with continually being with people for whom it most certainly is. But I think, though, there’s more to it than that. Italy is like no other country in the world for the richness of its history, and the fascinating thing is that it’s anything but a museum. Those two thousand and more years of history are not just archaeological layers but bear strikingly on the present, and when I’m able to make real to people the connections between the modern, living Italy and those past millennia I get a great deal of satisfaction.”
“And then there’s the art! I’m a professional artist who grew up in Australia seeing the art I loved either in galleries marked off from everyday life, or dismally reproduced in textbooks, so the experience of coming to Italy and finding out that here art just seems to grow naturally out of the ground was a profound one. That you can be walking down a cobbled lane in a minor Italian town and walk through a door to see a Renaissance fresco that would be the top billing in any Australian (or indeed American) art collection makes this place more than special.”