Person - George Finey

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Described by Norman Lindsay as the world’s greatest black-and-white artist, New Zealand born George Finey was first president of the Workers Art Club (WAC) and its main art tutor. His wife Nat (typist and artist’s model Nellie Phoebe Murray whom he married first in a mock ceremony performed by Percy Lindsay, then officially at St Clement’s C of E Mosman on 25 March 1922) modelled and directed there. Under Finey's presidency the WAC was first set up in August 1932 at 273 Pitt Street, in an annex of the Sydney School of Arts. Fashioned after workers’ clubs abroad, it comprised a small library and club room for lectures, music recitals and art classes. Although summer camps were also planned for members plus classes in French and German, activity became centred on the visual arts.

By October 1932 the club had moved to bigger premises at 36 Pitt Street. The first two public events were a display of international posters and an exhibition of Finey's work, opened by J S MacDonald, director of the National Art Gallery, who praised the artist’s technique, originality and sardonic bitterness. In contrast, the CPA's Central Committee Secretariat took issue with Finey for portraying the unemployed too pessimistically, and the Workers Weekly condemned his cartoons as dangerous defeatist propaganda. His “Workers lined up for the dole” were miserable, spiritless derelicts not true to the reality of their struggle. To the critic's contention that the masses should always be stirred to revolt, Finey responded that graphic art should be just that – to show the horrors of war.

Finey's next big project was for an 8 April 1933 anti-war conference: “Saga”, a protest in linocuts, by WAC students including Frank Beck, Clive Guthrie, John Harvey, Stan Clements, Adrienne Parkes and Geoff Lichfield.

Mounting disagreement with the CPA and the WAC management committee led to Finey's resignation from the WAC. Jean Devanny also resigned.

On 18 April 1933 Finey started art classes at 147A King Street above a speakeasy. There was no seating so borrowed forms were hauled by rope up an empty liftwell, often bumping the night club's patrons. The People’s Art Club was formally opened with four one-act plays on 18 May 1933; Finey helped design the sets. On 31 May 1933 The Importance Of Being Earnest directed by Ian Vallentine was staged there. The People’s Art Club seems to have had a short life at King Street.

Finey’s memories of bohemian Sydney are recalled in his book The Mangle Wheel: places where you could get a drink were raided by Constable Chuck (he disguised himself as a sheikh to get into a Black and White Artists’ Ball at the Bondi Beach Casino); one- act plays were staged at Pakies 219 Elizabeth Street, patronised by intellectuals and bohemians from 1929 to 1966 (Augusta "Pakie" established the club after her marriage breakup with theatre entrepreneur Duncan Macdougall); Madame Pura's; Miss Joseph’s in Pitt Street; The Greeks in Castlereagh Street. Finey and other cartoonists formed an “incestuous artistic community” at the Journalists’ Club. With Eric Jolliffe he drank at the Phillip Hotel in Phillip Street opposite the CIB, and at the Black and White Club in the Bulletin building. A casual dresser (open-neck shirt, white trousers, sandals, no hat or socks), Finey was sometimes asked to leave upmarket venues.

Finey is well known as a visual artist. He was also a scribbler of occasional verse, such as this tribute to George Bernard Shaw:

I love flowers, said the garrulous man

With gimlet eyes

And whiskered chin.

Their place is in the garden.

So; Please; Don’t

Bring them in.

The female keeper of the house

Who thought she kept him too

Filled the rooms with florals

As she was wont to do.

He threw some out the window

And others through the door

Then acidly instructed her

To bring them in no more.

I dearly love small boys

And girls, He told

The angry char

But I never cut their heads off

And stick them in a jar.

George Finey, who died on 8 June 1987 in his home at Lawson, has Wikipedia and Australian Dictionary of Biography entries.

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