A passion for Portraiture

Fay Plamka, award-winning artist, commercial and court illustrator. Photo: Gary Sissons

Fay Plamka is an award-winning artist, commercial and court illustrator, jeweller, tapestry designer, and teacher. Having arrived in Australia 70 years ago as a post-war refugee from Poland, she now calls the Mornington Peninsula home.

Faye studied art at the National Gallery School of Victoria, then at the Bezalel Academy of Fine Art, Jerusalem, finally spending two years in Austria as assistant to the visionary Ernst Fuchs, a leader of the renowned Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

These days, Plamka continues to draw, paint, and create but from the qui

eter back streets of a tranquil southern peninsula town and talks to Peninsula Essence about life as an artist and her incredible journey to get here.

“I love being on the peninsula and came down here for the first time in 1997,” said Plamka from her home in Tootgarook. “Unfortunately my mother became ill and so I had to move away to look after her but returned five years ago and it is wonderful.”

With every wall of the artist’s home covered in works of art that show the history of her life, her home is more like a gallery than a house.“I have always loved drawing and painting and remember as a child constantly drawing when I had the chance,” said 71 year old Plamka, who was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and came out to Australia with her family when she was 18 months of age. “My parents did not really believe in art as a career and so insisted I go to university to be a diplomat. I spoke four languages so it was a career I could have had.”

With the determination to be an artist all consuming, Plamka soon took herself out of the course and enrolled in art school in Melbourne.

“Art was all I ever wanted to do, and the course taught me skills and gave me some incredible connections. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t like the kind of people I was hanging out with so they sent me to art school in Israel. My sister was engaged to a nice Jewish boy and I hadn’t even dated one so they thought this would be a good thing.”

As fate would have it, Plamka ended up being offered a job at one of the newspapers there so her career took off.

“I made amazing connections over there and did portraits from life of all the big people in Israel like Moshe Dayan, an Israeli military leader and politician. When I came back to Australia, I started working in advertising and did a lot of portraits during that time. Being commissioned by the Art Centre, I did many portraits for them as well as one for Philip Adams,” said Plamka who sees advertising as the Vatican of the Renaissance. “Just as the Vatican commissioned people which kept artists alive and creative, I see advertising in that same way. It allowed me to earn a living and feed my children and gave me extra skills.”

Describing herself as a realist painter, Plamka says her passion is portraiture. “I have always been good at portraits and love painting people from life, including figurative work,” she said. “There is something very relaxing about painting and drawing and it is all I have ever wanted to do. To be a full time artist does take discipline though. You have to treat it like a job.”

Plamka paints in oils and watercolour and draws in every medium; she makes jewellery, uses nature and people as her inspiration, and has always had work in the art world.

“I have spent a lot of years as a court artist as well,” said Plamka, who recently did the court drawings of George Pell. “I was approached by the ABC and Channel 7 many years ago and have continued to work on various cases.”

Living on the peninsula has allowed the artist to slow down a little and these days she spends  her time mostly painting and drawing at home or in art groups, with the vision of exhibiting in the future.

Drawing has always remained central to Plamka’s work and her skills and versatility have earned her an enduring reputation as one of the top commercial illustrators and portrait painters. She has won many national and international awards, including the Melbourne Advertising and Design Club (MADC) President’s Award. In the London International Advertising Awards of 1989, Fay won first, second, third and fourth places from a field of 7000.

You can find Fay Plamka’s art on Instagram and Facebook.

Peninsula Essence – September 2019