Frank Austin has followed many vocations during his working life. Today he makes his living as an artist.
FRANK Austin is a well travelled man. Not just in the sense that, in the 50 years since he left school in Swansea at 16, he has worked as an aerial rigger, a welder, a tree feller, a busker, a carpet fitter, a carpenter and a library designer.
Some of those jobs have taken him far from his South Wales roots. The busking was in Germany and Austria. The tree felling in California, on the West coast of the United States.
Today he is back and settled in Swansea. We met at his studio/gallery in the Uplands district of the city.
RB: ‘You have had a very varied working life. How did you end up felling trees in California, and busking in Europe?’
“The busking came first. I had always considered myself non-musical. Then I went to see the film ‘Deliverance.’ It had this amazing banjo playing. I bought myself a banjo the next day, and spent five years practising for hours every day until I could play it.
“By then I was living in Amsterdam. I went there because I had heard that it was an exciting city. I met two American blue grass musicians. They asked me to join them, and we spent six months touring Germany and Austria. That was in 1974. We were in Munich when West Germany won the (soccer) World Cup.
“A couple of years later, I went to visit one of them, who by then was living in California. I wanted to stay and work for a while, so I bought myself a chainsaw and did tree felling for a year.
“It’s hard work. The chainsaw must be one of the most dangerous tools ever invented. But then I met a girl who wanted her house rebuilt. I volunteered, and learned carpentry skills on the job.
“I lived first in Oroville, and later in Feather Falls. Beautiful country, but after a year I decided to come back. America doesn’t have decent pubs, and I missed the social scene that you get in British pubs.
“When I came back I worked in London, before returning to Swansea. I was working as a general carpenter when a local school asked me to build them a large boat to use as a reading area.
“Somebody who worked for the council’s library service saw it, and asked me to design a jungle themed library. I was soon inundated with work for schools. I was designing libraries with jungle themes, or space, or rain forests.
“I did that for eight years. But I was gradually losing the use of one shoulder. I had cancer in the bone. I wanted to keep working; I couldn’t use my shoulder, but I could still use both my hands. So I tried painting. People seemed to like what I was doing; I was selling my work.
“After I had completed my cancer treatment, I had no real interest in returning to the library work. So in 2004 I took up painting full-time.”
RB: ‘Usually when I interview people, this is the point I ask them how they felt about retiring. But you have made it clear that you don’t intend to stop.’
“Being self employed, and able to work at my own pace, is important in saying I’m not retiring. I’m 66. If I had continued as a designer and carpenter, I would be retired now. But the painting is different. I can’t imagine not painting. I have things in my mind that I want to paint.
“But I am taking up new activities. I am learning to play the clarinet. I also want to learn the saxophone.”
RB: ‘People who have retired often say that it affects their partner just as much as them.’
“My wife works as a teacher, and she is retiring at Christmas.”
RB: ‘Do you have any plans for when she retires?’
“We used to own and run a secondhand goods shop. I’m going to convert our garage into a shop and start selling stuff again. We’d like to have a camper van, and travel to flea markets in France to buy items to sell.”
RB; ‘Do you think things will change when your wife retires?’
“I am sure the dynamic of both of our days will change. But we don’t know how it will change.”