Tank’s new look at The Aussie

By John Lewis

Ten out of ten for Tank.

That's a big accolade for any bloke in a beanie and a hi-vis jacket.

But The Aussie hotel's Paul Tsorbaris means every word when he sings the praises of the Shepparton artist who has been busy brightening up the walls of the iconic Shepparton hotel during COVID-19 restrictions.

“They're magnificent — ten out of ten for Tank. He's been a shining light for us,” Paul says in the cosy Liar's Bar where only about three or four people are sipping a beer.

Tank's bright green leaves have turned the hotel's glass-fronted dining area facing Maude St into a summer fernery, while his renowned imagery of chicks, fried eggs, cockies and telephones bring intrigue and mystery into the old bottle shop area.

Complexity of Being is comical and horrifying at the same time.

Paul says times have been tough during the past few months, and they're not looking any better for the future.

“Numbers are down big-time. At one stage there was just no income at all. Then we started takeaways and the town has been very supportive,” he says.

Victoria's initial lock-down closed The Aussie on March 23. The doors remained shut until restrictions were partially lifted in late June. Today there just 15 to 20 people per 80 sq m allowed in the hotel's four main areas, which Paul says is not enough to keep the hotel going indefinitely.

“It wouldn't be worth staying open if it wasn't for JobKeeper,” he says.

“The scary part is the unknown. There was light at the end of the tunnel, but I'm not so sure now. My gut feeling is we could be back to square one. It's stressful and tough.”

Paul and his team have taken the opportunity during COVID-19 restrictions to change things around inside and outside the building. The changes have included brightening walls with Tank's art.

Tank's Polyphony plays on nostalgia and humour. "It's the ring of the old telephone combined with the screech of the cockie.''

Tank's not so sure about the fernery look.

“It's a dangerous game, doing commissions. People ask for all sorts of things, like beaches — I have to tell them I don't do beaches,” Tank says as he sips a beer at an outdoor table in his paint-spattered jeans and jacket.

Then there's the colour green.

“Artists in general don't like using green. It's a difficult colour — it's just not appealing,” he says.

His two exterior artworks in the old bottle shop area are reproductions of his familiar paintings Complexity of Being and Polyphony.

The first shows a chick looking bemused at a vase of fried-egg flowers.

“There's a bit of horror there, I reckon. Like looking at your own embryos,” Tanks says with a hint of a smile.

Green ferns now brighten the walls of The Aussie's conservatory dining area.

Polyphony shows a cockatoo perched on an old-style telephone.

“It's got an old-fashioned feel to it. Calling parrots ‘polly’ is old-fashioned and today's kids don't even know what that red thing (the phone) is,” he says.

He says after an initial drop-off in orders when the pandemic arrived, things have picked up.

Last month, he collaborated with Longwood metal artist Steve Tobin to create a half-scale Spitfire aeroplane out of recycled corrugated metal. The commission came from a fellow whose father flew the legendary fighter plane in World War II. The impressive sculpture is now displayed at Sandy Creek Winery near Longwood.

Commissioned paintings for a new Sebel Hotel at Yarrawonga's Silverwoods resort have had to be postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A brightly coloured tea set awaits inspiration in Tank's Shepparton studio.

Then there's the tea set.

“I've been given a whole lot of cups and saucers from the old Jaycees club. I love them, but I don't know what to do with them yet. I'm waiting for inspiration,” he says.

He's painted them in a rainbow of bright glossy hues, giving the collection a cheery playful look, reminiscent of childhood.

Maybe a sculpture or a cafe installation?

Tank strokes a stubbly chin.

“I've always liked the idea of tea. People drink tea across the world, don't they? It's a shared cultural thing. Everybody loves tea,” he says.

Creative juices are being poured. Best leave them to brew for a while.