When Jim and I first met in 1988, he lived in a big, pink house in high ‘80s style in the Eastern suburbs. Perched on a wall was a watercolour painting, a period scene, unmistakably Scottish in a small battered frame. It was completely lost amongst the excesses of ‘80s design and flamboyant music memorabilia.
Still, something about it drew my eye; a delicate, almost whimsical quality that would often have me pausing to look into it. One day, I asked Jim how old it was, thinking it had come from Scotland with the Keays family. His answer was not what I expected, “I did it when I was 10 or 11.”
Jim said he had rarely touched watercolours – his favoured medium – since the Masters Apprentices took off in the 60s. He was uncharacteristically shy and self-deprecating about his ability, which I found very touching. Jim’s painting talent was a part of himself that he kept hidden, a vulnerability that he felt safe sharing with me.
Soon after our wedding in 1989, we moved to a period house and I asked Jim if he would do some pictures for our home. He started out with pencils and ink. Jim’s talent for drawing was innate and we soon had beautiful still life drawings decorating the interior.
A family holiday to the UK resulted in a series of exquisite pen and ink drawings of favourite medieval locations. Jim would choose a spot with a perspective he liked, settle on the green grass and create beautiful, delicate pictures.
Back in Melbourne, Jim began watercolour classes at the local community centre and thrived on his weekly classes. His fellow students were mainly retired ladies and Jim enjoyed their company, learning new techniques and painting at home, on family holidays and whilst on the road with Cotton Keays & Morris.
He would bring his latest painting into the lounge room and sheepishly prop it up on the mantle, prefacing its display with an apologetic comment. This was so unlike the man who had put himself and his music on display to the world for decades. Jim would give his art away as a gift and paint for charity when asked but he never felt able to exhibit.
In 2007, Jim was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer. His paintings became less frequent as the gruelling treatment took its toll. There were periods when the treatment was scaled back and I would encourage him to pick up his brushes again but, as time went on, he felt like it less often.
In the ultimate gift of love, trust and faith, Jim bequeathed all his paintings and artworks to me saying, “They are for you. You’ll know what to do with them.”
It is said that people keep their most precious possessions in their bedroom and that is where Jim kept his paintings; poignantly, in his dresser drawer… hidden under his socks.
Two years and one month after his passing, it was my privilege to open Jim’s first ever art exhibition, “The Secret Life of a Rock Legend”, at Hawthorn Studio & Gallery. Over two thousand visitors came from far and wide to enjoy Jim’s artwork. Many tears were shed, some spent hours studying the paintings and many left wonderful messages of gratitude in the Visitor Book.
It has been my pleasure to create this on line home for Jim’s artwork. Here you will find for sale some of the Framed Original Watercolour Paintings that formed part of the gallery exhibition along with Limited Edition Fine Art Prints.
Jim’s artwork is quite unique in that it is at once Fine Art whilst also being important, historical pieces from an Australian music legend. A Jim Keays masterpiece is not only a beautiful addition to any environment, home or business, it is also meaningful and a great talking point.
I liken music to a time machine… play this song and we are instantly transported through time to that moment, all those many moments!!! Almost always, moments revisited through music are happy and joyous – great music makers are Masters of Time.
Jim’s paintings are not only the work of an accomplished artist, they are the creation of a master music maker… each artwork is a portal linked to the viewer’s memories of the music.
In this way, Jim Keays’ artwork is inextricably entwined with his music.
Jim would have loved that.