off topic: Christopher Orchard

Off Topic and on the record as South Australian identities talk about whatever they want… as long as it’s not their day job. Artist Christopher Orchard (former head of drawing at Adelaide Central School of Art and creator of the famous Bald Man series of works) has had an itch for adventure since he was young.

“I took off from home with my sister’s pusher with a whole bunch of gear in it when I was five or six,” Orchard reminisces. “I was heading for who knows where and tried getting on a bus, but being a local neighbourhood – as they were back in the 50s – the bus driver stopped the bus and said, `I know you, son. I know where your family lives and you can’t get on the bus.’ He alerted my mum and the whole thing was resolved. I had an inkling that I wanted to go somewhere but I wasn’t sure where. There was a second occasion where I was sitting in a truck with my father, who was a truck driver. He parked, got out and told me he wouldn’t be long. I jumped out of the truck and started heading for somewhere and they alerted the police and all sorts of people were involved. I didn’t know it at the time but that was an inherent part of my character that was going to emerge.” Orchard admits he is not a great traveller but his wife Julie is an adventurous trekker. Julie was setting up a drama department in Nairobi during the 80s while Christopher lived in London working at the Camden Lock Market selling army surplus clothes to skinheads in order to pay his art studio’s rent. “The Camden Lock Market was an interesting place at that time. I found I had a bit of a skill for it [selling army surplus clothes], so the people who owned the stall kept me on and promoted me after a week. We were clearing enormous amounts of money – cash only – and we’d evidently send bales of stuff, I wasn’t in control of this, off to dyers in North England who would dye everything black. Everything in the stall was black and knocked down in price and troops would come through on Saturday mornings. I’d sell a motza to all these guys and gals who had piercings like you wouldn’t believe. One morning was really interesting. Do you remember A Clockwork Orange? A whole bunch of guys turned up at the market in braces, white T-shirts, black trousers, steel cap boots and bowler hats with little scarves around their necks and so forth. They were looking for someone in particular. They found him and dragged this poor guy out into the High Street and turned him into mincemeat. It was awful. It was literally like watching A Clockwork Orange right there in front of my eyes. But I was doing all of this to pay the rent for the studio. It introduced me to a whole cross section of London that I wouldn’t have got to see otherwise.” Christopher caught James Ivory’s film Heat and Dust while in London. He promptly organised a trip to Kashmir with his wife, Julie, who was still living in Nairobi. “We decided we’d go to Kashmir and she would come from Nairobi via Bombay to New Delhi and then from there we would bus it up to Kashmir. I would come from London via Air France to New Delhi and then we’d meet in New Delhi at a point that we’d forgotten to predetermine. This got more complicated because I slept in on the day I was meant to fly out of London. I woke up and the flight had already left and I just threw everything in a case. It was 30 degrees in London, humid and down in the tube it was even worse. I was running, dripping with sweat, trying to get to Heathrow Airport. “I eventually got to Heathrow and I just go off telling them that I’ve missed my flight and I don’t know what to do and I’ve got to meet my wife in New Delhi. They put me on another flight ASAP, because they just wanted me out of the place. By this time I was already 10 hours late. Unbeknownst to me, Julie was flying international into Bombay and was then going international to New Delhi, thereby landing at the international terminal in New Delhi. There were huge thunderstorms over Bombay and her flight was delayed and couldn’t land, so she’s now pushed back by six to eight hours. Her flight then had to be transferred to domestic. She didn’t know I was already late. In New Delhi I ran into town and found a little hotel, jumped on a little rickshaw to go back to the airport. It just so happened that when the rickshaw pulled up outside the domestic terminal, the electronic doors opened and Julie walked out of the terminal. That’s been the story of our lives. That little trip that I was going to take on the bus back when I was six years old was kind of a precedent event.”  

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