Prue Acton O.B.E., renowned fashion designer and artist, is on the brink of a groundbreaking new chapter in her colourful life.
As photographer Elizabeth Hawkes and I drive up to the house by the lake, bellbirds welcome us, tinkling like the sound of a wine glass being tapped to hush a crowd before a speech. This is the house that Prue Acton conceptually designed and partner Merv Moriarty architecturally engineered to create a haven for their art and lifestyle in Wallagoot.
I hadn’t seen Prue since the 1970s in London when she was the Australian fashion icon sharing her creative intuition with the world. We enjoyed dinner parties and the sense of fun that the era epitomised. The warmth of her greeting slides the decades away as she and Merv make us feel at home while we take in the intelligent and bespoke layout of the property. Curving up the staircase, we reach the living area with its soaring glass walls and we are almost projected into the canopy of the gnarly banksias just beyond our reach.
Prue Acton is effervescent. Her enthusiasm carries us along as she describes her journey from the fashion world to what she believes she was destined for: the life of an artist. After six years of trying to leave fashion design behind, by chance she met the legendary Australian artist Clifton Pugh. “He suggested that I check out a combination of colours that he had put together after a trip into the desert. Clifton’s red/golds and blue/grey/greens were shimmering on the canvas and I was hooked from that day,” she said. “My mother had a deep appreciation of beauty in everything. This she passed down to her kids and grandkids. Through her I developed my sense of relationship – the arrangement of shapes as well as colours to create a harmonious whole.”
The aroma of freshly made chocolate biscuits suggests that we should pause for some light refreshment so Prue infuses dandelion leaves to accompany those glorious nibblies.
Prue then proudly leads us to her skillfully designed studio where she clearly is comfortable in her world of colour and light. Her countless pastels lie close at hand. “The initial drawing is so important as the basis of each colour study. I decide what the dominant colour is and what the supporting colours are and then I’m off and running. I never know when it’s going to work for me, but if I’ve been creating constantly the muse pops in and next thing I know I’ve got this major painting.” Her face glows as she relishes the process of her eclectic style that she has just described.
As we meander down the short bush track to Wallagoot Lake, Merv talks about how 45 years ago he achieved his pilot licence and founded the Flying Art School in Queensland and northern New South Wales. He mentored many budding artists and encouraged them to complete works and have them exhibited in Australian and international galleries. He now feels comfortable sitting lakeside with his watercolours capturing the serenity of the bush beyond under a greying sky.
Prue, being proud of her activist leanings, relates her continuing involvement since the Tall Trees project of the 1980s to striving more recently to have all state forests, including her beloved Great Southern Forest, declared reserves or national parks to counter the concept of logging for woodchips and to revitalise the koala and other native fauna populations.
Finding their haven block of lakeside land and constructing an ecologically sound home nearly eighteen years ago has given Prue and Merv a kinship with the area. They buy produce locally to add to their own harvest of fruit, vegetables and eggs. They frequent nearby providores like Candelo Whole Foods in Bega and dine at the Saltwater Café at Merimbula or buy fresh oysters in Tathra. The lake allows them rowing and canoeing options and they enjoy stimulating walks like the Turingal Heads to Bournda track, specially during a twilight evening bathed in red/gold light.
Back at their home, we move on to the topic that’s now so close to the hearts of Prue Acton and Merv Moriarty: their colour wheels that create a completely new way of thinking about colour mixing and complementary colours. “Merv’s the inventor and I’m the innovator.” Over each wheel is placed a transparent plastic disc on which there is a curved grid that delivers the artist countless combinations for colour mixing. “The resulting colours will be beautiful and harmonious,” they say, almost in unison.
Their excitement is palpable as they explain the groundbreaking possibilities their novel colour wheels offer artists and painters, being uniquely able to deal with both RGB and CMY formats (no black, they hasten to add). They aim to market the world’s leading colour wheel designs, outstanding enough to win an award for the best new product at the Frankfurt Art Fair in 2018.
We can hear the bellbirds’ tinkling wine glass sound outside, urging us to pay attention to this important announcement: Prue Acton and Merv Moriarty are on the brink of something very special.
RECIPE FOR CHOCOLATE BISCUITS
Merv and Prue’s Chocolate Biscuits (GF, DF)
Oven at 1750
Baking tray(s) lined with baking paper
1 cup almond meal
1 1/3 cups gluten free flour*
1/3 cup cacao powder**
1/2 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
Mix dry ingredients together
2/3 cup Nuttelex
2/3 cup or less raw castor sugar
Beat Nuttelex and sugar well
Add small amounts of dry ingredients at a time until mixed
Form a ball to check that the mix holds together; if too wet add more GF flour.
Make into balls, flatten with a large fork or roll out and use a cookie cutter.
Bake for 18 mins – check for crispness – if OK turn off oven and leave there to cool.
Turn out on to a wire tray, then eat or place with baking paper in an airtight container.
*Prue’s GF flour – equal quantities of tapioca, amaranth, sorghum and white rice flour – the secret is at least 3-4 different grains plus xanthan gum.
**Certified organic, produced from unroasted, cold pressed, raw cocoa beans.