Out of Cold Storage: The Surprising Reinvention of Australia’s Best-Loved Refrigerator | Australian art

DAcre King was reading about the remarkable case of the infamous Stobie Pole, painted by world-renowned Australian artist Clifton Pugh, which disappeared. Then he thought about art gathering dust in his shed.

The collector went and dragged the hulking thing onto the patio of his home in Armidale, New South Wales – but it wasn’t the missing Buck Stobie pole. That missing buck was the refrigerator. A Kelvinator Magic Cycle, painted by the artist in 1958.

Eleven of Australia’s best creatives – Arthur Boyd, Paul Beadle, Elaine Hoxton and Buck – were commissioned by Kelvinator Australia, the Australian women’s weekly, to design a fridge each. The plan is to auction them off to raise money for Legacy.

Judith Pugh is an arts expert and writer whose PhD was Commonwealth Arts funded. She wrote Transient Life: Art, Politics, and Living with Clifton BuckFrom his time with her in the 1970s.

Kelvinator fridge painted by Clifton Buck outside Dacre King’s Armidale home. Photo: Simon Scott Photo/The Guardian

Refrigerators were a „great temptation” for painters, he says.

„Especially when painters were starting out, without a lot of money, and sitting in the kitchen eating, faced with a big blank white space.”

But the bid ended in failure. The refrigerators were shipped in and then distributed to various legacy branches and raffled off. So far, only Boyd’s whereabouts are known.

„I’m a bad scrounger,” King says. “I was reading some ads, looking at garage sales, and I came across this old Kelvinator refrigerator for sale. And it says 'Clifton buck decorated’.

„I loaded it on the back of a friend’s Subaru Impreza, drove it home, and it’s been sitting in my shed ever since.”

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That was about 20 years ago.

A regular canvas 'except for a long handle’

In 1958, The Australian Women’s Weekly published a three-page spread showing artists posing with their creations. Boyd, with a hand on the top of his refrigerator, boasts a play on the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan. Hoxton, cigarette in hand, sits next to another Greek-themed piece. And Book looks at his brief, sharp-edged piece, with its slashes of blue and green and black.

An Australian Women’s Weekly spread from December 1958, featuring artists (clockwise from top left) Frank Hodgkinson, Elaine Hoxton, Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, Paul Beadle, Clifton Buck, Arthur Boyd and Bob Dickerson. Photo: AWW

The Fridge exhibition – Art in Everyday Life – toured Australia in late 1958. AWW reported at the time that it echoed a similar plan in Paris.

The theme of the book is the Spring War.

„He lives in a ramshackle house built of mud bricks,” reported AWW.

„Buck’s own ideas about home planning were so unorthodox that he had to do some investigating before he discovered what the most popular modern color schemes for kitchens were.”

According to Judith Pugh, Pugh painted refrigerators like her „regular canvas, except for the extended handle.”

„What I saw Cliff paint reflected the state of mind he was in,” he says.

„It seems as if this original had to overcome some hesitation to tackle a task – for him, always to communicate, not to decorate.

„I think the efforts of Hoxton and Beadle are very effective and memorable.

“It was interesting that there was only one woman on the show. Proportionally there were fewer female artists back then (certainly fewer lawyers and doctors and jockeys and bank managers) but I wonder how the artists were chosen.

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According to the Bendigo Art Gallery, Boyd’s fridge depicts the Greek goddess Leda „as a barefoot bride”. She bore two children to the king of Sparta when Zeus came to her in the form of a black swan.

„This union produced two more immortal children,” the curator’s notes say.

„The picture evokes issues of seduction and seduction (and is too satirical to use on the fridge), and suggests a kind of passion play about the tribulations associated with the search for love.”

„Refrigerators are often given as wedding gifts,” Boyd said, according to AWW.

„So I thought a wedding theme would be appropriate.”

Close-ups of buck work (and bacon plate). Photo: Simon Scott Photo/The Guardian

Boyd’s refrigerator was sold at another auction in 1989 to stockbroker Rene Rivkin for $110,000. According to McCulloch’s Australian Art Diary, in 1995 Rivkin’s estate was auctioned off at a sale. In 1996, the Bendigo Art Gallery negotiated to buy it.

In 1989, the Australian Financial Review reported that the Hall Missingham fridge was back in a garage in the Blue Mountains. I don’t know what happened after that.

In 2011, The Australian Boyd announced that the fridge was „still around”.

’A small box marked cheese’

King describes himself as a lifelong art collector with „champagne tastes on a beer budget,” and he’s still involved in the art community. Buck also has paintings on canvas.

He describes the exterior of the pug fridge: „It’s very abstract, but it’s a wild animal (possibly a cat) and some native birds under some bushes, probably a magpie, making a frenzied attack.

„The birds seem almost motionless with their wings and feathers outstretched, flailing in whatever way they can to avoid a feral cat’s attack.

The amazing interior of the classic Kelvinator refrigerator. Photo: Simon Scott Photo/The Guardian

„[He] He was very concerned about nature. Although he is best known for his portraits of people, Clifton often sought subject matter from the countryside surrounding his farm at Cottles Bridge. [in Victoria]. Wombats, wrens, apostle birds, magpies, owls and native bush all feature heavily in his work.

And inside?

„It’s a classic old refrigerator. There’s a little box with cheese. It’s got a box for bacon. Bottles, snacks, a crisp.

„I originally thought of buying this as a beer fridge.”

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