While Bob Groves has always had a knack for art, his talent was noticed by the wider community when he responded to workplace hazing with ‘insightful’ cartoons of his co-workers.
As a young man, Bob described himself as “not a very good student”.
“I opted out of school at 14 or 15 and got myself a job as a grocer boy at Ken Tremelling’s Grocery, which is how I met my wife.”
When he was 17, he was working with a friend who told him that her friend Kaye had turned 17 that day and she was rather pretty, so Bob asked where this friend lived.
“I was cheeky enough to go round her place that night, knock on the door and wish her happy birthday,” he said.
“I think she must have been impressed by how cheeky I was, because that’s how we started to go out.”
They were married when they were 21, by which time Bob was looking to work on the mines.
“I got a job timber running. There weren’t too many that were willing to do it because it was heavy and hard, delivering the timber to the miners for ground support. It’s the kind of job you didn’t want to make mistakes in. I’ve got the scars to prove it,” he said.
“Later on I was transferred to a diamond drill gang and did that for the last ten years I was on the mine.”
Bob worked on the mines for 30 years, and eventually the cartoons he started producing there would be sent to mine sites around Australia.
He said it all started when, as a new face, the older blokes would have ‘a lend’ of him.
“For instance, once I was told we were out of short weights, go and get one, so I go out to the storeman down 12 ladders and say I want a short weight.
“The store manager said to sit down and he’d have a look. Eventually he looked at his watch and said ‘yeah, that’s long enough, you can go back now.’
“(Then) I had to climb all the way back up the ladders to the mining area.”
Bob got his revenge though. He started drawing caricatures of various co-workers and their mishaps, and posting them on the noticeboard.
He said once it became known he was the one doing them, he had people from all over the mine coming up to him with interesting information to make a cartoon from.
“I was doing up to 12 cartoons a night,” Bob said.
“That developed from there and the mines had me produce safety posters. They’d give me a subject, for example back injuries or eye safety, and I’d make up a cartoon and they found it was very effective because people actually looked at the cartoon.
“The mines inspection department picked it up and had me do safety posters for them that went around Australia, and safety calendars every year too.”
In the second half of his mining career, Bob started teaching art at Robinson College in the evenings.
He did this for 18 years, teaching a variety of children’s and adult art classes, and he’s still in touch with many of his students.
“I went to jail for five years,” Bob said.
“I was the arts and crafts officer at the jail, teaching there.” It’s clear from the twinkle in his eye that he thinks that’s a terribly clever line…
“I also held drawing classes at the PCYC once a week for about five years, and I still do voluntary art classes at the nursing home, which I’ve been doing for about 15 years.
“Sometimes it’s a little surprising what the ladies come out with, and you think ‘my God, it’s a little old lady telling these stories!’”
Although Bob’s first solo art exhibition was only held last year, his work has been included in exhibitions and auctions since the early 1990s.
He joined the Willyama Art Society in 1993 at his wife’s suggestion, and has been president of it for 24 years, although he’s stepping down at this year’s AGM.
Retiring from the mines gave him more time to paint, and he’s experimented with plenty of media over the last 25 years.
“I started off with oils but developed an allergy to the solvents – oils are full of lead and cadmium – so I switched to acrylics but had the same problem. Every time I painted I got nosebleeds,” Bob said.
“Now I use watercolours, gouache, pastels, pencils, and I’m happy with the results I get but keep experimenting.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute with the Willyama Art Society but it’s time to let someone else take over and bring fresh ideas in, although I’ll still stay with the society.”
Bob said the most important thing to remember about art was you’re always learning something, and those just starting out shouldn’t be disappointed with their attempts.
“There’s one landscape artwork I don’t have anymore, but when I completed it I sat and looked at it and thought, ‘that’s what I’ve been trying to achieve for 20 years’.
“Always keep at it, and keep trying because it took me 20 years to get something I was really happy with.”