Remembering the inimitable Maree Faulkner

Maree Faulkner would paint in bed, dripping gouache on to her sheets and coffee on to her work, to be covered up later by the lines of her latest complicated, riotous creation.

She worked frenetically and late - until 4am - for her days were full of people and community.

She liked to strike up conversations on the bus or on the street. The subject of her attention might at first inch away, uncertain about this strange "bag lady" in her floppy hat and mismatched outfit of stripes and florals.

But somehow she always won them over, made her little contact book fatter with their details, scribbled on a torn-off bit of paper.

She was a regular at the post office. Loved to write letters to family and those many friends collected on the streets of Wollongong and near her home at Keiraville.

Ms Faulkner died on Tuesday, aged 58.

Her art might have made her as well known as Margaret Olley or as rich as Ken Done, but she mostly snubbed the arts establishment and charged a pittance for her work.

"She was a non-conformist in every way," said Ms Faulkner's sister, Rosalie Faulkner.

"She bartered a lot with her art, and sold it ridiculously cheap. She was her own worst enemy."

The daughter of a nurse and a boiler maker, Ms Faulkner grew up in a modest house in West Wollongong, sharing a bed with siblings Rosalie, Janice and Ross.

The family didn't have much, and Ms Faulkner never lost her ability to see the potential in everything, right down to the smallest swatch of fabric.

These swatches were the basis for her "poverty dolls". She sewed hundreds of them and handed them out as gifts to those she would meet.

She led art classes for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Wollongong's homeless and downtrodden had her ear. She filled her art with messages about their plight, about unemployment, current affairs, the environment and development.

In the lead-up to her 2008 Wollongong City Gallery exhibition - called Pound'n the Crete, in reference to her preferred way of getting around - she told the Mercury her work was a way of drawing attention to social justice.

"I'm a small voice for the underclass," she said.

"People in the miseries often make colourful work. It gives you that awareness of people who are not doing as well as you."

The bags Ms Faulkner carted around were full of gifts - books, candles, crystals, poverty dolls. She always had something thoughtful to give friends, family, her daughter Renartta and, especially, her grandson, Byron, who boasts a revolving gallery of some of her best paintings.

Ms Faulkner once gave a packet of nasturtium seeds to a good friend, Deirdre Armstrong. Ms Armstrong watched the sea of orange and yellow flowers bloom and explode, eventually filling her garden and spilling into the yards of her neighbours.

"That is what Maree is about," Ms Armstrong said.

"Spreading joy, love, compassion.

"She could take the ordinary and take us into another world."

At the artist's request, friends will wear red to pay respects at City Central Church on Wednesday, from 11am.

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