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Nature comes alive in Gary's beautiful sketches

66-year-old Gary Binion arrived at HammondCare Caulfield 4 months ago with a couple of bags containing his earthly possessions in one hand and his most precious cargo in the other: a folio of delicate pen and watercolour drawings.

Gary Binion recently moved to Caulfield, bringing with him his artistic talents.

His beautiful sketches, done using a simple biro, bring to life the flora and fauna of the natural environment in bayside Melbourne, an area Gary’s very familiar with.

For a number of years, Gary lived at the Sacred Heart Mission boarding rooms in iconic St Kilda. But with a dementia diagnosis, Gary now lives in one of HammondCare’s Caulfield care homes.

By looking at his artwork you might suspect he’s been a paid artist all his life. For Gary, drawing and painting is just a beautiful way to pass the time, and to appreciate the beauty of the environment around him.

“I used to go to the St Kilda Botanical Gardens a lot. I’d bring along my gear and set up and draw. I know all the gardeners, they all know me by name.”

Getting a bit of a reputation as a street artist, Gary started to sell his work on the pavement, in pubs and cafes.

Some of Gary's sketches, many based on the St Kilda Botanic Gardens

Birds feature prominently in his work, which Gary attributes to being in a bird observer’s club for five years. A lover of nature, Gary now sketches from the garden taking in the sights and sounds that surround him at HammondCare Caulfield

It was an exciting moment for the staff at Caulfield when they discovered Gary’s hidden talents. He says he took out his drawing pad one day and it caused quite a commotion.

“I started doodling in one of the rooms and someone said, 'oh draw that vase', and so I did. And then they were all saying ‘We’ve got an artist!’”

According to Gary he grew up in a family of eight children and his father worked for General Motors. Gary says he did an electrical apprenticeship when he finished school, although drawing’s been a passion for even longer.

“I’ve been doing it for years,” he says. “All the family used to draw. We had no toys, so I suppose we were given a couple of pencils and told to come back at tea time,” he laughs.

His electrical trade hasn’t left him, and Gary still likes to see himself as a bit of a Mr fix-it, repurposing things other people at the care home would throw out.

Between his art and his interest in repairing and restoring things, Gary has plenty to keep him engaged in life.

“If you haven’t got some sort of interest or hobby you’re going to hit the drugs or the drink,” he says philosophically. “This is my thing.”

Gabby Willmott is the Art Therapist at HammondCare Caulfield. She was delighted to discover Gary’s hidden talents when he moved in, and says they’ve helped him transition to living in residential care.

“He definitely has a purpose and a visual language to express and communicate and find beauty around him.  It’s helped him in the transition, because he’s always got something to do.”

Gabby gave him another sketch book and has encouraged him to show his work to other residents.

“That way it encourages him and encourages them to try art as well,” she says.

Gary says drawing also helps him relax. “It’s nice to sit in the sun and draw,” he says, “especially when I’ve got pain.”

Gabby the art therapist is excited to see how Gary’s drawings develop while he’s living at Caulfield and hopes to take him out sketching in nature soon.

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