Stephen Prictor Obituary

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“Art should always be for art’s sake” – Stephen Prictor

 

By: Ethan McLaren

The story goes that Steve Prictor was asked to see how he could enhance a mural that had just been painted in the basement of The Esplanade Hotel. He was a long serving and highly regarded resident artist at The Espy, so it was natural for Steve to be asked by Christo, the venue’s designer who commissioned the piece, for some bright ideas on what else the space may need. Standing beside Christo, Steve eyed the new mural in front of him, intensely studying it with the same focus a Zen master might employ when meditating. Breaking his transcendental concentration, he turned to Christo and said with a thirsty conviction “Well first I’ll need a scotch -a triple”.

With his drink now firmly in hand, Steve went back to staring intently at the mural, frowning with obsession over its every nuance whilst only occasionally pausing to take a sip of whisky. Finally, he put down his now empty glass and with the same, recently freed hand, pulled out a worn black texta from his pocket. He walked straight up to the mural and wrote, in big black letters, “Stephen Prictor” right underneath it. “Now,” he said while turning back to Christo, “it’s finished”. His good mate, if not his partner in crime (at least his accomplice!) Fred Negro, recalls this anecdote as just another funny thing Steve did.

The tale also offers three telling examples of who Steven Prictor, who died last month, was. One: A much respected artist and musician whose individual brand of advice was often sought and happily received by many of his creative peers. Two: An almost arrogantly, irreverent showman who treated the admiration he received with the same “care-less” attitude that many who don’t take themselves too seriously, but who still know they’re great, do. And three: An absolute expert at being able to source a free drink at any and every given opportunity.

Born on the 29th December, 1964, Stephen Prictor and his creative works were to end up defining a large, pub-filled swathe of St. Kilda’s colourfully muddy identity (it’s still difficult to get a beer in the area without seeing one of his murals painted near the bar). Yet, before all of that, while he was growing up, Steve would make his mark as the fresh faced poster boy of community arts in his first home town of Frankston.

In 1979, the local Frankston newspaper was doing a story on the Seaford/Carrum High School’s arts and crafts exhibition. Accompanying the small story was a large photo five times the size of the article, of Steve at 15 years old, posing with one of his paintings in his school uniform.

This, his first photo in the local press, was the start of a trend that would see him and his creative accomplishments featured in countless news stories throughout his late teens and into his early twenties.

When he was awarded The Frankston Posts’ ‘Citizen of the Month’, the news clipping from the time had this to say, “Stephen’s talents and community efforts are displayed all over Frankston. Along with his murals at Frankston’s first aid shelter and Pines community centre, Stephen’s most recent contribution is his artistic efforts in the book, ‘You, Me and Frankston – a young person’s guide to growing up in Frankston’.” In another article, he was reported to have tourist busses coming to see him while he was painting his murals. Confidently posing with the mayor of Frankston in some stories and smiling for the camera in front of his works in others, he was clearly comfortable with the notably high profile he had in his community. Especially given the fact he was only in his early twenties.

Not just a well known muralist during this period either, another of Steve’s endeavors, a band called The Steroid Brothers, were doing pretty well too. The first of many groups he created throughout his life, The Steroid Brothers were riding high after they cleaned up at a Frankston battle of the bands one year. With the local kids backing them, The Steroid Brothers started getting big in the Frankston pubs and were even charging a $4 entry fee for their Thursday night shows in the Frankston Hotel’s Bistro. Not bad for a first band.

Yet, although Steve’s achievements during his youthful Frankston days were nothing short of remarkable, it was only to be the support-act phase of his artistic life. Stephen Prictor would save the headline show of his career for his second home town.  In Frankston, he had merely set the proverbial stage for his future work. The murals he had scribed back then were the literal and proverbial writing on the wall for the impact he was to make as an alternative mural painting, rider-drinking-champion of creative St. Kilda.

He once joked that he had painted Luna Park so many times during his career that he couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. One of his murals in the band room of the former Greyhound Hotel; suave but sleazy looking dogs, playing in a band with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and sunglasses over their eyes, will always be remembered as an icon of St. Kilda. As The Espy’s resident artists for many years, he’d paint their weekly lineups on the side of their building or their kitchen’s menu boards, or whatever other walls he could convince the owners they needed a drawing on. The famed, highly detailed ‘History of The Espy’ masterpiece that he painted with Fred Negro, still sits in its place underneath the bar in the Esplanade Hotel’s front room.

Australia’s longest running live music venue’s distinctive feel will forever be a monument to Stephen Prictor’s twisted eye. It is only one of St. Kilda greatest attractions.

When it comes to the local live music scene, Stephen Prictor’s death has left a massive hole there too. From the locally loved band he fronted, Violent Mood Swings, to the fourteen years he hosted Kooky Karaoke alongside Fred Negro, to his maniacal harmonica abilities playing with The Mary Hillbillies. His death means a little more of St. Kilda becomes silent. His musical performances and theatrics were where his irreverent, cocky demeanor shone, placing him squarely in situations such as drunkenly diving off the front bar’s stage at The Espy, trying out some creative new knee drop of his, and receiving a pair of broken heels for his efforts. He hosted Kooky Karaoke at the Prince of Wales up until a week before he passed and was due to play a show with his beloved reformed Violent Mood Swings for his birthday at The Espy the weekend he died. In his last ever interview before his death, Steve claimed “All art should be for art’s sake”. It’s humbling to know that his entire life’s work, which was of huge cultural benefit to all in St. Kilda, was done purely for the sake of doing it.

Apart from his art there are many other personal traits Steve will be remembered for; an extremely intelligent person, he would be the one mixing the sound for his friend’s bands because they didn’t know how -or choosing the right paint brushes for the murals of others who didn’t have his expertise. As comes with intelligence, he also had a deadly, razor sharp wit. In one instance, when he was out for dinner with his girl Amanda, the second round of drinks he’d ordered were taking too long to arrive. When the waiter finally brought them over Steve sarcastically chimed “oh thanks mate, I was beginning to get a hangover.”

When Fred Negro spoke of his death he was quoted as saying ”I was lucky enough to have painted three murals with him in the last six months and after a day’s painting, my face would be sore from laughing.” A heart just as big as his head, Steve was known for many loving gestures and his many strong morals too. From the countless news clippings he featured in, which his proud mother Val had collected over the years, there’s a story about a young Stephen Prictor which would sum up what many remember his kindness to be.

Derek Eyre-Walker,

In his Frankston days, Steve was running a local talent night at the Vines Hotel. The proprietor of Guitar Village, a local store, had helped sponsor the night by supplying him with an amplifier, a PA and by giving Steve’s artists a small discount on their own equipment. When it came time for Christmas that year, Steve hadn’t forgotten the help he had received and wanted to give something back, so he painted a surprise mural with all his own paints on the shop’s front window. A two metre high Santa Claus wishing not just the proprietor, but everyone a “a rock n roll Christmas”. It took six hours of painting to complete and he did it all at once in order to not spoil the surprise.

A true and valued local identity, Stephen Prictor will be greatly missed by the many friends he had, the many lives he touched, the many gig goers he entertained, the many pub walls he drew on and the many bartenders he frequented.

The city of St. Kilda which relies on the art he created, as a load bearing wall of its own individuality and mystique will probably miss him the most. For Steven Prictor, there is no replacement.

A big thanks to his mate Fred, his girl Amanda, his loving mother Val for clipping all his early articles and everyone else who shared.

1 Comment

  1. dan johnson

    05/04/2013 at 12:53 AM

    sad indeed as it seems one step closer to old st kilda becoming the homogonised bland over-restaraunted suburb it seems hell bent on becoming . in these days of having multiculturalism rammed down our thtoats it seems we are blind to the nuances of our own fragile culture , and the passing of the true artist that was steve prictor is a very big loss indeed !

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