was born and raised in Barwon Heads, a fishing village nestled at the mouth of the Barwon River on the Victorian coast.
The son of a fisherman, Druce's coastal roots are a constant link in his varied and vivid artworks, often subtly interwoven into subjects and places seemingly far removed from his beach home.
In others the influence is far more obvious, from the rippling, tanned bodies of nameless life guards to the portraits of well known local surfing identities, all set against a uniquely Australian backdrop of vivid blue water, sand and sky.
John Druce: Retrospective is a vibrant and evocative collection of approximately 60 works representing the culmination of the artist's personal life experiences, travels to exotic places and interludes with unusual and interesting people.
Druce has painted hundreds of portraits in a career spanning more than 40 years. He has been a prolific entrant in the Archibald Prize and was recently a finalist in the Moran National Portrait Prize for a painting of eccentric Melbourne painter and former dancer Vali Myers.
He has exhibited in dozens of solo and group shows in Geelong, Melbourne, and overseas including a recent exhibition of portraits of surf legends at Torquay's Surfworld Museum.
Druce's own life has been as eventful and unconventional as the lives of many of his subjects.
After graduating from RMIT art school in the late 1950s, Druce worked as a creative artist for the Herald and Weekly Times before his longing for travel and experience saw him leave Australia's shores for England, travelling overland via India and the Middle East.
He studied film at the London School of Film Technique and went to work for British Aircraft Corporation filming Concorde and fighter aircraft. After a couple of years his desire for creative freedom inspired him to go it alone as a film-maker and soon he was filming wings of a different kind - shooting a video for Paul McCartney and Wings.
As a freelance filmmaker he spent the better part of a decade travelling to exotic locations around the world filming travelogues and documentaries.
Upon Druce's return to Barwon Heads in the mid-70s, the exquisite light and colour of the Australian beach landscape and the beauty of bronzed bodies struck him. The Beach Series was born, a series of images that capture the Aussie beach culture.
Further journeys including a five-month stay in Papua New Guinea in the late 1970s have had a significant influence on his work and spawned a series of tropical, colourful images of tribal leaders and exotic animals, shown for the first time in this exhibition.
Since the mid-1980s Druce's passion for people has emerged in his many portraits of home-town heroes, local legends and sporting identities.
Druce's later works reflect both his physical and emotional journeys at particular times, such as the vibrant Gone Troppo series inspired by a summer in the Daintree Forest, and series of works in which a "Fellini" style character called The Fool emerges, painted following a return to England in 1989.
In many ways Druce's journey has come full circle and today he lives and paints at the Barwon Heads home where he grew up.
He co-ordinates the graphic art program at the Gordon Institute of TAFE in Geelong while striving to apply creative vision in all aspects of his life as a painter, film-maker, photographer, graphic designer, illustrator and community worker.
John Druce Seaview Pd Barwon Heads Ph. 61 03 5254 2405
To a European eye, the vivid and descriptive paintings of John Druce might appear to be the work of a seasoned flaneur, a nonchalant, bohemian observer of life. For an Australian viewer, the term that more like will spring to mind is beachcomber. But Druce is no ordinary beachcomber, if indeed there is any truth at all in the assertion. Rather, he is a beachcomber - or flaneur- of unusual energy, productivity and wide experience.
After all, Druce's career in the visual arts spans some four decades and has embraced the multiple roles of painter, illustrator, filmmaker and lecturer. In this retrospective, however, it is Druce the painter on whom the spotlight has been trained. Nonetheless, there is ample evidence in the work here on view of his involvement in these quite separate albeit related spheres.
We see evidence, for example, of his early training with noted Australian artists Murray Griffin and William Frater, of his travels in exotic places including New Guinea, Russia and the Middle East, of years spent in Europe, of his enduring connection with Barwon Heads and local coastal regions, and, most importantly, of his passionate interest in people of colour, manner, character and appearance.
To borrow the artist's own phrase, his work is the reflection of a life in which the subject has sought to 'walk the shoreline' of the various cultures in which he has found inspiration for the altogether optimistic oeuvre surveyed in this inaugural exhibition mounted in the Gordon Institute's new gallery space.
Geelong Art Gallery