Fred Colla from Ivanhoe

My name is Fred Colla. I was born in 1956 in Melbourne. My wife and I have lived in Ivanhoe for 15 years. I am a fine artist and paint from my studio at home.  Annette found this place by accident when walking by; when she got home, she said: “We finally found something you’d like!” When I saw the house I liked the location and sense of privacy. The property was very neglected, but we saw the potential in it.


We used to live in Fairfield but decided to move as the area was getting more and more built up. There’s some of that going on in Ivanhoe now, but not at the scale of other suburbs. Our daughters went to Alphington Primary and then Ivanhoe Girls, and both still have friends from those years, as do Annette and I from being involved as parents. That sense of connection matters, especially when you move into a neighbourhood.


My dad arrived from Italy in 1955 and mum joined him not long after. In Italy, dad was an engineer but that wasn’t recognised here, so for most of his life, he worked as a fitter and turner. He’d design and make molds for a factory, staying up late working; I’d often watch him as he sat at the drawing board. Dad was a complex man, very liberal in some ways and very strict in others. He’d always encourage me to draw, even if I did it on the walls, but we also had a rule book that I had to follow and recite.


When they arrived in Australia dad loved it, but mum hated it. Dad worked with British and Scottish men and had to teach himself English, which he did quite well. Mum worked at a clothing and weaving factory with other Italian women, so she took longer to learn. I started school unable to speak English because at home we only spoke Italian.


In 1992 I went to Italy to meet my relatives and found everyone was doing quite well, so once I was home I asked dad why he’d come here, and he explained that after the war people had been starving to death. Migration is quite tough; to go to a foreign land and learn the language and a different culture, it can be quite lonely. When I was five, my little brother, George, passed away from leukemia. He was four years old. My parents had to deal with that on their own, without any family support.

In the 50s and 60s, and even in the 70s, Australia wasn’t all that friendly, I reckon. Things have changed a lot though. School life was nothing like it is today. Back then you’d get hassled all the time; they’d pick on your last name, or your nose, or your hair, but they’d always find something.


People often say I must be smart for having gone to Melbourne High in my last years of school, but I think I was average and didn’t enjoy my time there. To their defence, I did have a run of very good, very inspiring art teachers, such as Owen Spurway, who guided me towards studying fine arts. Mum was thrilled when I told her my career choice. She said: “You are going to be famous!” Dad, on the other hand, was devastated.


As a child, I’d design and build model aeroplanes which I’d fly together with dad in the park. Perhaps he thought that meant I’d be an engineer of some sort, but we never really had that conversation. The thing is that I had no interest in the science behind what I made; I was all about the design and aesthetics. Dad died from a heart attack when he was 52.


I studied fine art at RMIT and later at Chisholm, in Caulfield. As a student I worked part-time visiting schools to sell art products, going full-time after graduating. I was exhibiting often, both in groups and alone, and sold work occasionally. Years later, after meeting my wife and having kids I became a teacher at the Victorian College of the Arts. During those 23 years I taught and painted, and for a time even had a gallery in Fitzroy. Life was very, very busy and it got to be too much, so we let the gallery go. Looking back I must have been mad to try and do so much.


As a practical kind of person, being an artist was hard at first. The trouble of exhibiting and the disappointments... every artist finds that very hard. A while ago I began working with a design company that commissions my work for clients, and that was very good. I paint what I like, and just need to deliver on time. I started with collages and then abstracts where buildings would show up, which led to the paintings I do today. My work is a collage of different points of view, an impossible rendition; I want people to feel like they are in the city rather than looking at the city.