Joe Danau — Spiritual Artist / Builder

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 8.23.30 PM“When in the bush at first it seems like there is nothing there. After some time the land get’s you then you become part of the land. Then when you lift a rock or look up you notice that the world is teaming with life. Everything is living—the air, everything… This is what I try to put in my paintings—the things that you don’t necessarily see.” Joe Danau

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Joe Danau – Australian Builder and Artist

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Joe Danau found his artistic inspiration and enlightenment from the most unlikely of circumstances.

It is as though Joe has had a few lives in this one lifetime. He began his life in Belgium and his childhood was deeply affected by the war. When peace came he migrated to Australia. He then became a very successful tradie, then builder and businessman with his own sub-contracting company. Unexpectedly he was influenced by a most ‘out of this world’ unusual friendship, to finally find his way back to his original childhood intention of becoming an artist.

This is Joes life story so far.

Joe was born in Belgium in 1935 and the first five years were wonderful years where the people of Belgium couldn’t spend all of their money. Food was plentiful, there was laughing, dancing the Charleston and life was plentiful. His mother owned a cafe in Brussels where beer and food was sold and the cafe seemed to be one constant party for the young Joe.

 Joes childhood

Joes older brother (left) and little Joe in their woollen pants

When he was about five the war arrived in Belgium and Joe he remembers going by horse and cart down the main road out of Brussels with a man who owned the horse, his mother and brother.

Joe’s Mother had decided to take an open horse and cart away from the invasion—it was a quick decision in the heat of the moment.

They were part of a mass exodus and the road was packed with people and their belongings. After one day of walking down the road the old horse was exhausted so they pulled off the road beside a big warehouse. Very soon after they pulled off they heard the sound of German airplanes as they came over machine gunning, shooting and dropping small bombs onto the road and down the side of the road that was full of people. If they had not pulled off when they did they may have been killed.

Soon after that some Germans soldiers drove down the road and pulled over to the warehouse and broke in. They found that it was full of food—biscuits and jam. One solider gave Joe an open tin of jam and he remembers sitting on the stairs and eating from the big can with his fingers.

His mother decided it was really unsafe to stay or go further down the road away from Brussels and so asked his brother to get Joe so that they could return to Brussels. Unknown to the mother his brother couldn’t find Joe and simply jumped back on the cart without him.  They started back down the road without Joe. Luckily for Joe when this was discovered they came back and found him on the stairs with the jam.

On the way back the stench on the road was horrific. There was blood, body parts and guts everywhere. The horse was as spooked as were the humans.  It was very slow going with fear their constant companion.

At this stage a row of German tanks came out from Brussels. The first tank had a big blade on it that clearing everything off the road.

When they eventually got back to the café they found that people had broken in to the café stolen the beer and used the bed as a toilet.

During the war his mother had to run the café to survive. Joe’s father was initially a POW. He had been rescued by the Swiss Red Cross from a camp. He spent his time in an infirmary recovering from a severely infected head injury that was inflicted by a rifle butt while he was a POW.

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Joe on his bike — in front of his mother’s café.

His grandfather thought that the boys would be safer and better cared for in a Catholic boarding school so as a little mite of seven years old Joe went to live in the strict surroundings of a convent for boys.

Joe escaped the brutality of the boarding school by spending much of his time reading.

He became a choirboy so at times would sing in the Cathedral. This was his first introduction to art because the works of Rubens and many other Flemish Masters were hidden away from the eyes of the invader in the back of the Cathedral. The young Joe loved those paintings and vowed that someday he would become an artist.

Joe painted at this time and the walls of his mother’s café were covered with his works.

When Joe left boarding school he was 12 and when 13 Joe was invited to learn at the Institute of Art in Construction. Everyone else in the class was over 20 years old and some were 30 however, this didn’t worry him at all. He was an immediate success as he had been reading books his whole life so won first prize for the theory and was advanced immediately to the second level.

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The certificate from the Belgium Institute of Art and Construction

The day he turned fourteen his father put him to work and Joe started digging trenches for foundations. At the same time he continued with his studies at night school and learned all about stone masonry, and other artistic aspects of building. At his fathers work he advanced to brick laying.

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Joe the apprentice builder at 14 years old

When peace came the Danau family reunited but the friction between the allied troops and the Russians horrified Joe’s father who had spent three years in hospital recovering. He was filled with trepidation and declared: “We’re not going to be caught again… we must get out of Europe.”

In 1951 the family migrated to Western Australia and bought a farm in Donnybrook.

Country life was not to the liking of 16 year old Joe so he moved up to Fremantle.

Joe’s first work in Belgium had been as a stonemason therefore it was natural that he entered the building trades. Quickly he graduated from bricky’s laborer to a full time bricklayer.

Soon after his 17th birthday he met an Australian girl who had two children and they settled in Fremantle. When he was 20 they were married, as he felt very protective of her and her children particularly as she was mentally unwell. They had two more children making a family of three girls and one boy. This marriage lasted fifty-three years and ended with her death at a ripe old age.

In the late 1960’s the building trade slumped and Joe accepted a job at the isolated Catholic Lombardina Mission staffed by Germans in Beagle Bay. Beagle Bay is 125 kilometres north of the pearling centre of Broome in the North West of Western Australia.

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The famous Beagle Bay Pearl Shell Church

Joe had no idea that this would change his life forever and he would return to his original childhood dream of becoming an artist.

Joe became well known to the local Aboriginal people as he was building for their community, in particular an old bloke who was an elder became a regular friend.

The elder was respected and a tad feared as he had flashlight eyes, with a light that smoldered behind them.  His very presence demanded respect. He rarely spoke and when he did he was quiet and of few words. Many people found him intimidating and the Mission locals mainly avoided him.

Joe found that the elder’s beliefs and physicality different — powerful and pure.  Joe understood that the elders way of living was beyond anything that was currently held as possible by most people.

He was not just an elder but also a “Medicine Man” who had walked from the Northwest down a song-line via Uluru to Adelaide and up to Queensland at least twice. Along the way he would perform ancient traditional Medicine Man initiation rituals.

As there were so many languages along the way, the old bloke would have to learn each language. This man was extremely educated and spoke all the languages. At each language group they would pick up a new person and drop off the person who had been picked up when they last visited. This ensured that each language group had a few people who understood all of the languages along that song line.

The elder was from a time when his teachers had little or no contact with white people so his education was purely traditional. His way was often diametrically opposed to the ways of the Christian raised Aboriginals of the mission. Joe noticed that he was feared and ostracized for his traditional Aboriginal beliefs therefore he had few friends and Joe and he struck up a strong bond.

Joe felt that the elder knew what he was doing all the time—it was like he was a fully conscious human being.

Joe reminisces what happened when they went net fishing. When a big fish was caught in the net the old bloke would jump in and disappear below the water for up to two minutes. Then Joe would see a hand with a huge one meter long fish slowly rise up above the water. The fish would be dead. The old man had killed it with his teeth. Joe has many stories of this mans exquisite control and use of his body and understanding of the landscape and animals.

The local mission people had fear around this elder’s ability so avoided him and thus his knowledge. The elder found this to be very heartbreaking but after some attempts to pass on the knowledge and artifacts he gave up.

He told Joe that Christianity and alcohol affected the next generation —he gave special totem objects to relatives as required by law and his people sold them for alcohol in Broome. These artifacts were ancient and powerful and the Christian raised family members simply didn’t grasp the cultural significance of the objects.

The old bloke then realized that respect for the traditional Aboriginal culture was usurped by “white mans ways” even by his blood brothers and sisters. He came to the conclusion that there was no one that he could trust to pass his ancient knowledge onto so he stopped. He told Joe that the original Aboriginal culture would be gone once his generation was gone.

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Cooking lunch on the Beach

No work on Sunday was a Mission rule so Joe would often take a truckload of men, women and children and their dogs to fishing spots or picnics.

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On one of these fishing trips Joe was standing in a small river about knee deep in the water with his fishing rod. The children all started yelling “snake, snake” and a couple of them ran over to Joe and climbed on him literally rooting him to the spot.

Two black snakes swam down the river towards him and they circled him then swam through his legs and swam off.

The elder was watching and interpreted it as a sign.

One day the elder asked Joe on walkabout. Joe accepted thinking that the trip would be pleasurable just like the ones they had done so far—maybe a few days or a week at the most. He had been on many walks with the elder and thought nothing of it.

“I’m just going back to where I came from” explained the elder.

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Self portrait – Fishing at Beagle Bay

Joe had no idea that before him was a walk from Beagle Bay to the Mitchell Plateau in the extreme north of Western Australia. Over 1,000 kilometers of terrible terrain and that this walk would take between three to four months to complete.

Joe remembers…

“There was the elder, two of his nephews, one wife. some children and me. The day we left the Mission we simply collected our hunting gear—I had my own spear and woomera—and we went bush.”

“After two weeks of walking and living off the land and whatever water was offering I was well and truly ready to toss it all in and head for home. But as I had no idea where we were, I had to keep going. My survival was entirely in the hands of the elder.”

“Along the way we met various tribes and mates of the elder and we would stop for about a week. Ceremonies would be held and although I was not formally initiated I was permitted to watch the dancing, singing and the corroboree’s.”

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Joes painting – The spirit of the elder . This is not an exact depiction as culturally the elder would not have wanted that.

“I only had the clothes I was wearing and after some time the cloth became weak and worn until it simply rotted away and I was left without much on. The same happened with my shoes. I was not used to going bare foot so the elder made me some shoes out of bark.”

“I was so dependant on him for everything. We ate what the land provided. We ate little but the foods was so nutritious that just a little seemed well and truly enough.”

“Although I was totally dependant on him at no time did I feel insecure.”

“A couple of times due to the situation I was placed in — my mind would become different — and I became the land and the land became me.  I was floating around in it all wrapped in the blackness of the night.”

“After a few days this feeling would subside and I felt totally at peace. I was filled with a new wisdom and understanding of myself and my fellow human beings and our mutual relationship to ‘our land’.”

“I had become, in fact, a totally different person. The combination of the dancing, the chanting and the elder’s magnetic personality had affected me deeply. Our close human contact while travelling together in the wilderness had given me a deep appreciation of ‘simplicity’—we revealed ourselves to each other without pretence or deceit of any kind. For me this was the first time I had seen human beings acting in complete honesty.”

They eventually reached the elders “place” and a great reunion ensued.

Joe had to return to work at the Mission so a vehicle was found to take him down the tracks via the legendary Fitzroy Crossing, back to Broome and out to Beagle Bay.

On his return home to Fremantle Joe found his had no desire to continue many aspects of his former lifestyle. Once a ‘regular’ at the pub, he gave up drinking entirely, and smoking, and also lost interest in the more material aspects of ‘civilization’.

He gave up building and enrolled at Claremont School of Art where he won many awards over the five years that he was there.

He is known for painting, ceramics as well as sculpture.

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Two years running he won the sculpture award.

Today he owns no car and is happy with just the ‘simple things’.

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Examples of Joes sculptures

Joe describes himself as an Australian Artist with his unique and unusual techniques that he has developed over the years.

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Joes art techniques are uniquely developed over the years.

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Honey ant people

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Joe with a couple of large paintings

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Joes current art and sculpture

IMG_3181More current paintings 

Joes website is:  http://joedanauartist.com/index.html

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How I met Joe Danau — Artist

Art, writing and music have always held my heart. Yet, somehow when I went to university I got myself a science degree. My creative side was relegated to gardening, playing the piano and renovating houses. In my 20’s I was still “getting over” my university education so didn’t give my creative side much attention. I simply didn’t appreciate the qualities it bought to my life.

I chose house paint colours, renovated antique furniture, did tie dyeing, dress making, I spray painted rainbows on my clothing, played the piano daily and built pergolas but didn’t see this as important and worse I didn’t appreciate how much joy this side of my life gave me.

One day in my 30’s I visited a very dear friend of mine called Phil. I had been married to him in my early 20’s so that he would travel with me. He said he wouldn’t travel with me to India without a marriage certificate, as it was too dangerous. kia and Phil 1

Me and my “husband”

I asked him “Do you want to change your name to Schulze?”

He said “No”

I told him. “You don’t HAVE to.”

So we married. Mind you he looks as good as this now and he is the most wonderful soul — all of this decades later. Sigh…

I wanted to go to India with him and even although I believed that marriage was simply rich white guys in the church/government giving the OK that you could “legally” have sex – I married him.

A trip to India and Nepal was just too much of an enticement.

I left him in my mid 20’s because he told me that we were not going to travel that year. This whole conversation was rather silly of him really. He so didn’t understand how I would respond to this news. I immediately booked myself a two-week skiing tour without him in Falls Creek. I went and had a wonderful time and that was the end of that.

At the time I was not really interested in the whole marriage thing I had no interest in having children or the longevity of relationships, I was simply exploring the boundaries of what I wanted and what I didn’t want. My heart screamed at me that I didn’t want to be told by another adult what I could or couldn’t do.

Many years later I discovered a word in English that explained my hearts desire, it is eleutheromaina — an intense and irresistible desire for freedom. As I love the freedom of saying things my way — I would translate this word to say — an insatiable lust for freedom.

Eleuthermomania should have been my name instead of Wendy. This has been the theme of my life.

You can’t change your dreaming — you are who you are…Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 10.09.05 PM I guess every relationship has times of misunderstanding, boredom and confusion. When this occurred with this wonderful man I simply left.

I have not regretted it as when we were together I was 100% there and when that wasn’t the case I left. I was then 100% doing things differently.

Mind you my heart was broken, I couldn’t imagine why my loved partner would want to “tell me what to do” and try and treat me as though I was a child.

I couldn’t get my head around that and it was very confronting, confusing and distressing.

I remember that he didn’t really want a divorce, yet I thought that it would help him move on as I had. Therefore I organised the legal side of the paperwork and paid for it upfront.

Eventually the divorce was official and I got some papers in the mail — he didn’t know that our divorce was official as he hadn’t really been a willing party and he somehow didn’t get any official notification.

At that time I would have any excuse for a party so I organised a “divorce” party at my home without telling anyone the reason. It was a large casual party with people coming and going all day. Of course I invited Phil as he was my closest friend.  When the party was at the zenith I jumped onto a table and asked Phil to come to over. I then announced that the party was in honor of our divorce. On top of this wonderful news I said that I would marry myself and I would partner myself for the rest of my life. No more marriage for me. After this wonderful divorce event Phil and I visited each other often and shared really good times together.

We remained very close and loving friends so he was still a major part of my life for twelve years after our divorce.

He had lots of girlfriends and eventually he found one he was really into.

She found our closeness confusing and I don’t blame her. I backed off so that they could get together and Phil and I have since lost our closeness.

I really loved and cared for him and wanted only the best for him. I understood that he was more traditional and steady than me and required a more traditional and steady partner to be really happy. I don’t really understand the whole “to death do us part” social consciousness. I have always lived for the now and in the now.

Eleutheromania — this is the way I am — no apologies.

It was the late 1980’s when we were still in contact Phil asked me to visit him. When I arrived he led me to his fireplace and with sparkling eyes showed me his latest acquisition that was hanging in pride of place in his home. He appeared excited by this new gift for himself and seemed to want to know what I thought.

I was stopped in my tracks. The work had an immediate emotional impact on me — it spoke of dreams undreamed, realities not explored and I begged him to take me to the gallery so I could see the rest of the collection.

He took me to the “A” shed in Fremantle — the spirit and the beauty of that artists works hooked me. Immediately I bought a piece and asked the gallery owners Valerie and George if they would let me know when Joe Danau ever had another exhibition.

FIRST PICTURE This is the first painting I purchased

This was the 1980’s and although I was by then in my 30’s I was a teenager in spirit. I spent my time working at a job I loved, windsurfing, hitchhiking around in third world places and simply having fun. Art was a wonderful diversion as was sport, travel, adrenaline laced fear, food and friends.

Every now and again Valerie or George the business owners of the A Shed would let me know when Joe was having another exhibition and I would go and buy a piece.

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At each exhibition I would be eager to  get exactly the piece I wanted and this is what happened.

 IMG_2726You can’t change your dreaming — you are who you are.

Money was no problem and in my life beauty has always been senselessly important. Joe’s art was one of those senselessly beautiful things that I included in my life.

One day Valerie gave me Joe’s telephone number as he had asked to speak to me and I rang him and arranged to meet him. I had no idea what it was about. I was simply happy to meet “the artist”.

When I met Joe I was a single parent of one child, and as Joe had been a bolder in his life before being an artist he asked if he could help me around the house.

Joe realed me in with gentle words and kindness, he asked if he could help me around my garden…

As a struggling single parent with a house to run, two businesses and a crazed angry controlling father of my child, I had very little kindness and support in my life. I was focusing on getting through each day in a sane way that supported my child…

I easily accepted Joes offer, so, every second week end when my daughter was being tortured by her father with access Joe and I would work together in the garden. While we were working he would open up about his experiences in life and “teach” me what he had learned.

The teaching was osmotic, it seeped into my being and I was nurtured by the stories. Amazingly enough I had already been to many of the desert places he told me about and so I was able to visualise his travels and stories in the outback of Australia.

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If you want to know more about Joe Danau and his art visit this site. Joe Danau Artist