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Nigel Milsom and artist Adam Cullen have been friends for over a decade. ‘We share similar interests,’ says Milsom. ‘Privately we see ourselves as home-brewed ornithologists. We’ve had many camping adventures over the years, searching for rare raptors – birds of prey – in the hope of trapping one to train for falconry.
‘We have since found this is illegal so we’ve had to convert to simple bird-watching, which isn’t as much fun but always a good laugh. We also like to collect bird road-kill for Adam’s visual library: he is a mad collector of objects both natural and man-made that forecast death, decay and mental disturbance.’
One of his reasons for painting Cullen, says Milsom, is that he sees him as a rare species. ‘His visual language as an artist is quite unique and although some only think of his bad-boy public image, he is a different person privately: a generous spirit with an old-school charm. He is fond of Spanish painters such as Goya, Velazquez and El Greco so I’ve tried to reference those artists in this portrait.
‘I aim to depict Adam’s vulnerability, stripped of his public persona – quite literally in the way I’ve handle his features: a nod to Picasso and his cubist style of painting. The bird he is holding is non-specific. A raven? A falcon? It’s more a visual metaphor for Adam’s mortality. He is trying to stare death in the face with self-confidence yet the look on his face has a sense of clownish dread, knowing that death is final.’
Born in 1975, Milsom lives and works in Sydney. He has a Bachelor of Visual Arts from the University of Newcastle as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) and a Master of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW. He has had seven solo exhibitions since 2002 and has been represented in various group shows. This is his first time in the Archibald Prize.