Rrenowned Arrowtown landscape painter Graham Brinsley, who died last Friday aged 60 after courageously battling cancer, was also, fittingly, a very colourful character.
A multi-talented individual, he was born in Auckland, where his dad was a Presbyterian minister before transferring to Dunedin when Graham was 4.
Inspired by his mother who dabbled in oils, especially when holidaying in Wānaka and Queenstown, he announced at 5 he’d be come an artist.
By 10 or 11 he was painting outside, then by 13, when his family moved to Invercargill, he was painting after school and at weekends.
At 14 he set up in Wānaka during the summer holidays and sold paintings propped against a fence.
Though self-taught, Graham later regretted not going to art school as his art teacher put him off due to his realist, ‘commercial’ style.
Instead, he took arts subjects at Otago Uni before leaving in his third year as he was going so well selling paintings — up to 40 on one day.
He also pursued other interests like fishing, diving and skiing, and was encouraged early into music by a grandmother who’d been a well-known opera singer.
His cousin Andy Brinsley says Graham could play any instrument, by ear, and while still a teen climbed Mt Aspiring — then later summited Europe’s Matterhorn.
He also took up karate, gaining a triple dan black belt.
At uni he met his wife-to-be Jenny.
They lived in Timaru and Rotorua before moving to Arrowtown in the early ’90s, initially buying and renovating the historic Doctor’s House near the golf course.
Graham hadn’t really liked the North Island — ‘‘you didn’t get the seasons’’.
‘‘I’d come down to Central and spend a month in the winter skiing and painting.
‘‘Central is really my spiritual home.’’
It was also what he painted most in oils, along with Fiordland and the West Coast.
At one stage he befriended an Irishman who bought his work and hosted him in Ireland.
‘‘He loved going to Ireland — just the craic, really,’’ Andy says.
Friend Greg Hay recalls him staying with another friend in Switzerland who wanted him to paint something.
Over a week Graham painted a large, picture-perfect rendition of Milford Sound, entirely from memory, on his mate’s white plastered-stone kitchen wall — a wall that’s survived despite several home renovations.
In recent times he’d taken to working with a thick palette knife where, in his words, ‘‘you layer the paint so it’s almost like sculpting’’.
He had an Arrowtown gallery and regularly gifted works to fundraisers.
‘‘He had a pretty relaxed view about life, and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone,’’ Andy says.
A natural storyteller, Graham punctuated stories — often against himself — with an infectious chuckle.
Hay adds: ‘‘He was just a bloody good human who had a light touch on life.’’
He’s survived by his talented children, Thomas, Alexia and Eleanor.
His funeral’s tomorrow, 2.30pm, at the Arrowtown Community Centre/rugby clubrooms — familiar to Graham as a keen Arrowtown Premiers rugby supporter.
According to the death notice, guests are asked not to wear black — ‘‘he never bought black paint as there’s no black in nature’’.