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Kevin Connor paints a self portrait every couple of years, several of which have been hung in the Archibald Prize. This one is “a silly old bugger at 70!” he says with a laugh. “It reflects what I’m doing now in my work. I’ worked out a way to use thinner paint and to be able to wipe it out and start again without that feeling of thick, gooey paint building up. You can see the various attempts rubbed out underneath. In a funny way when I was finished I was completely satisfied with it. It was only afterwards that I noticed that the left side of my brain was red and expanding and the intelligent side was green and mouldy! But that seems right.”
The background of the painting is Connor’s studio overlooking East Sydney. It didn’t take long to paint – “though you could say it took 70 years.” Normally for portraits Connor does hundreds of drawings but not for a self portrait. “I look in the mirror each morning. Most artists paint self portraits as an objective look at a portrait,” says Connor. “It’s the only time with portraiture you can be objective.
“If you paint someone else it’s always subjective.”
Born in Sydney in 1932, Connor has lived and worked here for most of his life, apart from periods painting and studying in London, Paris, New York, Spain and Egypt as well as extensive travels in Europe, the USA and the Middle East. His work has largely been concerned with the life of the city and its people. A survey of his paintings and drawings from 1947-1988 was held at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1989 and on tour. There have also been survey exhibitions of his Sydney Harbour paintings in 1988, his portraits in 1988, and his drawings (with two other artists) at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1996. He has had 55 solo exhibitions in Australia and one in London. His awards include the Archibald Prize in 1975 and 1977, the Sulman Prize in 1991 and 1997 and the inaugural Dobell Drawing Prize in 1993. He was a Harkness Fellow from 1966 to 1968 and served as a Trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW from 1981 to 1987. He is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, all the other State galleries and in most major public collections in Australia as well as in many Australian and international private collections.