Paul Vrondidis works as a machine operator in a factory but paints every night and at weekends. This is the first time he has entered the Archibald Prize so he was bowled over to have been selected.
“Fifty percent of my painting is portraiture,” says Vrondidis. “I love capturing the person behind the smile, the psychology of the portrait.” This is his first self-portrait and was, he says, the most difficult portrait he has ever painted. “I had a terrible camera, a Polaroid Instamatic, which takes the most shocking pictures so although I did attempt to work from photos I gave up and used a mirror which was hard because I didn’t have the light I wanted. I had to go to the bathroom to get the light I wanted on the side of my face. Also I’m the type of non-confrontational person who walks around with their eyes down so it was slightly confronting to have to look hard at what I really look like.”
Vrondidis cites French artist Chardin as a painter whose subdued colours, humble approach and power inspire him. But his self-portrait is very much as he would paint (he does a lot of still lives) rather than being staged. He painted it specifically for the Archibald Prize but a week before the deadline, when he couldn’t get the face right, he almost ditched it. It was only the encouragement of his girlfriend that kept him going and he was only truly satisfied at the eleventh hour. “Thank goodness I kept going and entered it,” he says with a laugh.
Vrondidis is largely a self-taught artist. He scoured second-hand bookshops for books on art and information on technique, throwing 90% of them away. “It was a hard struggle,” he admits. “I’d go into a shop selling art supplies and wouldn’t know the correct terminologies.” But he kept at it and his perseverance has paid off. “This is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me.”