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Winner: Packing Room Prize 2005

Jason Benjamin

Staring down the past
oil on linen
180 x 240 cm
Further information

Bill Hunter is one of the great stalwarts of Australian film and television, appearing regularly on the small and big screen since the 1970s. His many credits include Newsfront, Gallipoli, Strictly ballroom, The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the desert, Muriel’s wedding and Tom White. Recently, he popped up as the voice of the dentist in Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Benjamin’s current body of work explores themes such as being a father (via his relationship to his own father and to his children) and being Australian (having lived overseas last year). “I felt as if I’d been running away from these things for a long time,” he says, “that landscapes were not enough.”

Discussing this with a friend of his, Australian actor David Field, Bill Hunter’s name came up and the next thing Benjamin knew he was talking with Hunter on the phone.

In painting Hunter’s portrait, Benjamin set about exploring the thoughts currently consuming him rather than trying to produce what he calls “a tawdry this-is-your-life portrait.” Benajamin visited Hunter on his remote property in country Victoria, sat and talked with him, took photographs of him, and generally got to know him. “I needed to work out what Bill says to me and that’s why he looks the way he does in the picture,” he says. “To many people he is just this loveable larrikin figure but I was much more interested in what was beneath that. Many Australian men give you that ‘happy-to-shake-your-hand’ face and run away from revealing a more complex persona but that complexity was what I was interested in.” Initially, Benjamin didn’t have the window in the painting but in the end he felt that the painting was about looking out and back over your life. “I think the window anchors the picture, not just as a source of light, but as a subtle symbol of a man looking out at what he’s done.”

Born in Melbourne in 1971, Benjamin lives and works in Sydney. In 1989/1990 he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York. He has had 21 solo exhibitions since 1992 in Australia, London and Hong Kong and has also been represented in numerous group shows. His work is held in numerous Australian collections including Artbank, the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Portrait Gallery.