This text marked the induction of Lyndon Whaite into the AGDA Hall of Fame in 2004.
It’s amazing how many of our finest graphic designers have been largely self taught. Gordon Andrews, Douglas Annand, Jimmy James, Arthur Leydin, Garry Emery, Wayne Rankin, Brian Sadgrove. There are more (even me).
It’s not something the tertiary system would like shouted about, but it speaks to an almost mystical compulsion in some young people to do things they can’t quite understand, and then Bingo! Somewhere along the way they find it has a name- and they’re hooked. Lyn Whaite is one of them.
As a kid he loved drawing. He was so good at it that eventually, after high school, he took a folio of drawings to an ad agency in Adelaide, and got a job on the spot. Blimey… some drawings! This was after choosing French over Art at school because the experience of drawing from the cast had nearly driven him bonkers. As a child he had discovered that the lower case “e” fascinated him, and like a mandala, allowed his mind to trace stories in it, and was an early gateway to the comprehension of the abstract in art.
After seven years in Adelaide advertising he was posted to Melbourne where he marked time in various agency jobs while fate decided what to do with him.
Then she struck!
He found himself sharing space with Les Mason (Hall of Fame 1992) in Queens Road. “That’s where everything came together, That’s where I became a graphic designer. Les, as a tacit mentor, opened my understanding of design, not just in graphic design but in all design in life. All the intuitive bells that were ringing separately for me in the literature, music, fine art and philosophy I had studied, now came together in one liberating symphony of design understanding. I soon had a design piece, a poster, reproduced in Graphis Annual and I was away!”
Graphis Magazine, published in Switzerland, brainchild of Walter Herdeg, Swiss designer of note, was the bible of our craft. Mean on colour, to have a small black and white image of your work printed was like winning Tatts. Being chosen for the yearly Graphis Annual, in which a bit of colour was thrown around sparingly was definitely superior to sex.
Lyndon Whaite solo, later in a six year union with Garry Emery, (Whaite & Emery) and then solo again, made regular appearances. Reputations grew in those hallowed pages, and Lyn’s work became admired internationally.
In 1971 four friends, Lyn, Garry Emery, Brian Sadgrove and Andrew Fowler-Brown joined forces to pitch for the Post Office account which was on the move, and established Whaite Emery Sadgrove & Fowler-Brown in Drummond Street, Carlton. Geoff Cook, now one of Australia’s finest illustrators, but then a kid straight out of art school needing his first job, snared one doing finished art with the group. He remembers the exacting standards, the quality of work, the heads down bums up atmosphere. He was chuffed to be working there he said and the natives were friendly, but he couldn’t keep up with the blistering pace. “I was too slow. I had to go.” In the event, the Post Office account went to Huveneers in Sydney, but the group stayed together for two years doing formidable work.
Lyn set out on his own again, and started to do some teaching, which he enjoyed. One of his gigs was as an outside lecturer at Caulfield, now Monash. Richard Henderson was there at the time and managed to get his first job with Lyn when he graduated in 1973.
He says of the period, “What Les Mason had given to Lyndon, Lyn gave to me. He passed on the baton. The craft, the discipline, the Bauhaus principles. Working with Lyndon was an unforgettable experience. He was amazing. He would include me in client meetings. He was delighted when a job that I had done, got into Graphis, thanks to his help. He was a true mentor.”
However, even with Beethoven on the stereo, medals on the shelf and cutting edge design on the drawing board (remember them?), Lyn was restless. The economy of the early seventies was doing one of its dippity dives and running a successful, high end studio was a constant battle. Lyn was longing for the remote river spots, the isolated areas of the Coorong in South Australia, glimpsed too briefly during yearly holidays in Land Rover, tent and canoe. The Whaites wanted to go where “there were no shops, no crowds, no traffic, no toilets. Simplicity, simplicity….”
In 1975 they moved back to South Australia and bought a vineyard at Blewitt Springs, not far from McLaren Vale. He was still doing freelance work and a bit of teaching, while developing a 6 acre vineyard and mothering 69 acres full of cows. “The first few years flew by” he says, with a straight face.
Eventually as the vines matured, he had more time for printmaking and painting, and when a full time teaching opportunity came up, he took it on. In a life grown accustomed to triumph, this proved to be the greatest triumph of all.
In his ongoing years at Underdale (1977 till now) he has blessed a succession of brilliantly trained young men and women on their way. To have been taught by Lyndon Whaite is a badge of honour. I noticed it in Melbourne when kids came across looking for jobs, the Underdale graduates were head and shoulders above the rest. This from a man who had no formal training of his own. During this time he produced some of his most beautiful work.
The Australia Council symbol, the original version of which he did with a stick dipped in ink (typical farmer). And in conjunction with Grant Jorgensen, a series of “conservation” stamps for Australia Post.
In a typical joust with the Big Philatelist the mystic powers above tried to kill one of the four. Lyn fought for it and won. It went on to win “The Most Beautiful Stamp Series in the World”, a competition judged annually in Italy.
Lyn Whaite is a jewel in our crown. A graphic designer’s graphic designer. His path through life has been as calm, considered and inevitable as an I Ching hexagram.
Max Robinson, 2004.