Tough old biddy gets a touch-up

Kurt Brereton cleaning his father’s portrait of Ma Ring. Photo Denis Gallagher

In 1971 local artist and gallery owner Kevin Brereton painted a large portrait of Ma Ring for her 90th birthday. The famously tough-talking Ma Ring had a soft spot for the young artist.

Ma Ring recognised that Kevin Brereton was a quality artist who would attract attention to the Billinudgel Hotel with his work. The portrait has hung in the hotel now over 40 years, leaving only a few older patrons to remember the stories and characters from those wilder days.

At the time Kevin and partner Janet built an art gallery in New Brighton, which was seen by most locals as a crazy thing to do. In spite of the odds these young artists, with three children, managed to thrive and blazed the trail for other artists from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in the late 60s and early 70s.

Recently, Kevin’s son Kurt, also an artist, returned to New Brighton to set up a studio and prepare for a series of solo exhibitions in New York and Berlin later this year. While having dinner at the hotel, Ma Ring’s nephew and now manager, Ken Barham, caught up with Kurt to remember past Billinudgel Primary School days and mutual friends.

Ken mentioned that Ma Ring’s portrait still hung in the old poker room. However, flying tomato sauce, splashed beer and a yellow varnish of cigarette smoke had all been added to the history of the painting.

Over the last month Kurt Brereton has cleaned and restored the painting to its former glory for all to enjoy again. Kurt noted, ‘This sensitive yet bold portrait of Ma Ring brings out her strong intelligent character. It is a very sympathetic representation that cleverly plays on her name and the bar sign behind her left shoulder. They both shared a witty dry sense humour and you can clearly see there was a warm bond between them.’

In homage to Billinudgel, Kurt Brereton will hold a one-night-only preview of his paintings bound for New York on Friday 18 May, 6pm–8pm at Barry O’Donnell’s old butcher shop next to the hotel and across the street at the Billinudgel Picture Framing gallery. All welcome and free. Check out Ma Ring’s portrait at the same time.

Dr Brereton will also be teaching a six-week Professional and Exhibition Practice course for artists at the Byron Community College in May.

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