The Daily Telegraph
July 20, 2014
You came to fame by winning the Archibald Prize twice (2008 and 2013), but you gave this year’s competition a miss. Does that mean you’ve had extra time up your sleeve to relax?
I’m always very, very busy, partly because the nature of my work takes a long time to execute, but I’ve also been working collaboratively on a number of big projects. So, no, there hasn’t been any extra time…if only.
The Archibald is one of the country’s most prestigious art awards. Did it feel different each time you won?
Well, both times I was in complete shock [laughs]. It’s an overwhelming experience; it’s a humbling experience to win the Archibald. Portraiture is an important discipline in my practice. I think I was possibly more shocked the second time. I really enjoyed the experience of working with Hugo [Weaving] and felt honoured to paint him, but it didn’t cross my mind that I would win it again.
What did Hugo think of it? Was he there for the announcement? No, he was working interstate, but I did get a really generous, lovely text message from him.
His wife and daughter came to the opening and I was able to have a glass of champagne with them, which was brilliant.
How often do you get asked to paint a portrait of someone?
I kind of lock myself away from the world, and the gallery that represents me knows I [rarely] do commissioned portraits. In saying that, I am doing one at the moment, which is very exciting. It’s for the National Portrait Gallery [in Canberra] and it’s of [basketball player] Lauren Jackson.
You’re known for your unique style of art – who or what inspires you?
I’m an artist that draws inspiration from direct experience from life on one level. Equally, I think my work is a journey to escape the world. My work is a contrast of reality as much as it is real reality – I like that tension. The creatures in my paintings are human enough so there is some connection
You’ve said your father discouraged you from going to art school and now you understand where he was coming from. Do you hope your kids (son Kell, 11, and daughter Arella, nine) do something completely straight down the line?
In so many ways I feel blessed to be living my dream. At the same time, I wouldn’t wish the life of an artist on anyone. It’s a hard life and you always want to protect your children and want ultimate fulfilment and joy. Unless you live for the work, there’s no other reason to be an artist.
Your partner, Chris, isn’t from the art world – he works in finance. Is it difficult in terms of relating to a day’s work?
What works well in our relationship is that we exist in different worlds. We both love home life and family life. But I think we enjoy a lot of space, too. I know some really amazing couples that spend all day together, but that just isn’t for me. Chris and I enjoy our independent lives. If anything, it informs our closeness when we’re together; it’s very special family time.
You were the creative director behind Mia Wasikowska’s March Vogue cover this year and you’ve also worked with [designers] Romance Was Born. How does art and fashion meld together for you?
An artist stepping into the fashion world is like a fashion designer stepping into the art world. It becomes very playful because it’s not my discipline. I’m very careful, in terms of if I say yes or no – it’s always about the energy of the other person. Certainly in the case of [Romance Was Born’s] Anna [Plunkett] and Luke [Sales], they have become two of my dearest friends. I didn’t meet Mia before the Vogue job, but I’m a huge fan of her work.
Finally, what’s the best thing about what you do?
It’s a very inexplicable thing… it’s almost something you can’t define. It’s the most powerful energy that I live with. I mean, the drive to make work is something I live with constantly. It’s the defining energy within my life.
The Archibald Prize finalists are on display at the Art Gallery of NSW until September 28. Visit artgallery.nsw.gov.au.