A taste of Eternity
A Taste of Eternity. Photo: Emma Walker
Martin Sharp remembers the first time he encountered Arthur Stace's elegantly chalked copperplate.
It was the early 1950s and the acclaimed artist, then a boy, was returning to his Bellevue Hill home after fishing at Rose Bay pier.
But as Sharp walked up the steep incline of Cranbrook Road, he saw the word ''eternity'' written on the pavement.
Powerful influence ... Liane Rossler and her artwork inspired by Arthur Stace's Eternity. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
''I'd never seen anything written on the pavement before and it puzzled me,'' he said.
Stace's single-word message stayed with Sharp long after the chalk had faded away.
''He's had a big influence, actually,'' he said.
''I saw him as one of the great figures in the city. He wrote everything in that one word. It was such a powerful thing.''
Sharp used the word ''eternity'' in a number of his artworks, including a poster celebrating Sydney's Haymarket area, and his Eternity painting that first appeared in the Oxford Street shop window of the retailer Remo in 1990.
A group exhibition of artists inspired by the concept of eternity will feature that painting, which is currently on display at the Museum of Sydney.
The Eternity exhibition at Damien Minton Gallery in Redfern features works by more than 40 artists, ranging from Archibald Prize winner Garry Shead and his daughter Gria to street artists and the co-founder of Dinosaur Designs, Liane Rossler.
It is also a tribute to Sharp, whose works are as synonymous with Sydney as the art of Brett Whiteley.
Rossler says she has Sharp to thank for introducing her to Stace, an illiterate former soldier, petty criminal and alcoholic who became a devout convert to Christianity and then spent 35 years walking the streets of Sydney anonymously chalking ''Eternity'' until his death in 1967. Stace believed he was following a higher power to write his illegal pavement message in whichever suburb God had directed him.
It was a fruitful mission. His single-word message, which Stace reportedly learnt from a sermon delivered at the Burton Street Tabernacle in Darlinghurst in 1932, influenced artists, poets and, most famously, the planners of Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations, who emblazoned the word ''Eternity'' across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000.
It was a memorable night for Rossler, whose husband, the architect Sam Marshall, asked her to marry him as the fireworks exploded and the word illuminated the Harbour Bridge.
Years later, Rossler photographed the word ''optimism'' stencilled on a pavement in Melbourne, which she says inspires her campaigning for action on climate change.
Rossler's artwork will feature that photo as well as symbols of eternity, including a wedding ring and the number eight.
''Arthur Stace's chalk writing was ephemeral, and I wanted to capture eternity in materials that lasted forever,'' she says.
In contrast, Peter Kingston's Boofhead's Last Ride features the famous cartoon character which ran in Sydney's The Daily Mirror from 1941 until 1970, hurtling down a steep slope on The Mountain Devil, the famously hair-raising scenic railway in the Blue Mountains. ''I've got him riding the devil in a quest to discover the mysteries of the universe,'' Kingston says.
''Mind you, the cable could break. He'll find out pretty soon if there is an eternity or not.''
Eternity is on at Damien Minton Gallery in Redfern from Tuesday.