(Australia 09 Oct 1965–28 Jul 2012)
152.5 x 121.5cm
Adam Cullen turned to portrait painting in 1997 when he began entering the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Cullen eventually won in 2000 with his portrait of actor David Wenham and portraits have since become an important part of Cullen’s practice. Typically they are rapidly executed and have all the immediacy and expressive power of quickly applied paint that drips, pools and runs down the canvas. However Cullen usually has sketched and thought through the portrait composition before executing the work so that the image is fixed in his mind prior to applying paint to canvas. This tension between control and spontaneity adds to the expressive power of the works.
In 2003 Cullen was invited to participate in an exhibition entitled ‘Anita & beyond’ at the Penrith Regional Gallery, which explored the legacy of local beauty queen and nurse Anita Cobby’s brutal murder in 1986. Cullen’s controversial contribution was portraits of Anita’s five convicted killers. The strongest of his portraits was of ringleader John Travers, painted from the police mug shot that appeared again and again in media reports of the murder – an image that remains fixed in time even as Travers ages in prison.
The reds, yellows and blues in the face of the portrait give it a flushed and garish hue, while the downcast eyes are mute, giving nothing away. This masking of vision occurs often in Cullen’s figures and is strongly suggestive, implying both an unknowable inner world and a lack of engagement. There is a fine line between the criminal as underdog, celebrated in Australian culture as the antihero who stands up against a repressive law and order as we see in the prevalence of legends such as Ned Kelly’s within the national and artistic psyche, and the flip side of the criminal sociopaths and killers demonised for their horrific crimes. The picking and choosing of which criminals achieve antihero status and which remain beyond redemption can seem somewhat arbitrary since brutality is often a common factor and the perceived innocence or guilt of the victim seems to moderate the public response.
'Adam Cullen 1965-2012: artist was drawn to darker side of human existence' by Catharine Lumby, pg. 18., The Sydney Morning Herald 31 Jul 2012, 31 Jul 2012, 18.
Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Author), Adam Cullen: let's get lost, 2008, 79 (colour illus.).
‘Pup, your mouth’s too big for your boots’ by Ingrid Periz, pg.424, Art and Australia (Vol. 41, No. 3) Mar 2004-May 2004, Mar 2004-May 2004, 424.
Ingrid Periz (Australia) (Author), Adam Cullen: scars last longer, 2004, 100 (colour illus.).
‘Slap in the darkness’ by Louise Martin-Chew, p 7, The Weekend Australian 07 Jun 2003-08 Jun 2003, 07 Jun 2003-08 Jun 2003, 7.
‘Anita & Beyond at Penrith Regional Gallery’ by Jeremy Eccles, pg. 6–7, Art Monthly Australia Jun 2003, Jun 2003, 6-7, 7 (colour illus.).
‘Artists put human face of tragedy in new light’ by Joyce Morgan, pg. 17, The Sydney Morning Herald 03 Mar 2003, 03 Mar 2003, 17 (illus.).
Alison Kubler (Australia) (Author), Our place in the Pacific: recent work by Adam Cullen, 2003.
Lisa Havilah (Australia) (Author), Anita & beyond, 2003, 62 (colour illus.).
Anita & beyond, Lewers Bequest and Penrith Regional Art Gallery, 01 Mar 2003–27 Apr 2003.
Our place in the Pacific: recent work by Adam Cullen, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, 04 Jul 2003–27 Jul 2003.
Our place in the Pacific: recent work by Adam Cullen, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, 18 Oct 2003–23 Nov 2003.
Our place in the Pacific: recent work by Adam Cullen, Cairns Regional Gallery, 28 Mar 2004–16 May 2004.
Our place in the Pacific: recent work by Adam Cullen, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, 28 May 2004–27 Jun 2004.
Adam Cullen: let's get lost, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 15 May 2008–27 Jul 2008.