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Winner: Archibald Prize 1986

Davida Allen Dr John Arthur McKelvie Shera

oil on linen

230 x 187 cm

This portrait by Davida Allen of John Shera (1913-1998), a retired medical doctor in Ipswich, Queensland, is now in the collection of the Ipswich Art Gallery with the title My father-in-law hosing his celtis trees.

For the 1986 Archibald, Allen had intended to submit a portrait of New Zealand actor Sam Neill, who had been the subject of a suite of satirical and provocative works in which she had explored sexual infatuation. Instead, she submitted this portrait of her 73-year-old father-in-law.

Reflecting in 2021, Allen wrote: ‘One day I arrived unannounced while he was pottering about in the garden half naked! Instead of him quickly disappearing, he kept watering; unperturbed! On this day I was struck by an intimacy that was the linchpin to my returning with pencils and drawing pad to examine more closely the subject for a painting. I noticed his back was covered with seborrheic keratosis, which in turn I painted as thick brown blobs of paint. The final touch was bashing the green paint background of the painting with a branch off his celtis tree! It was a painting driven by emotion …’