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Ian North and Daniel Thomas have been friends for 34 years. Thomas is a respected art historian and curator. During a long career, he was director of the Art Gallery of South Australia (1984–90). Prior to that, he was senior curator of Australian art at both the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The genesis of North’s portrait was a visit to Thomas’s home near Port Sorell, northern Tasmania, in early autumn. Seeing his host sitting on his sundeck, North immediately felt he’d like to paint Thomas in that setting.
North says that the painting was intuitive in its processes, based on sketches and photographs. 'Although initially conceived as an overall unity rather than in terms of separate attributes, it quickly came to imply, for me, several aspects of Daniel Thomas, art museum doyen and remarkable Australian: his deep involvement with Australian culture, suggested by the koala shirt and the G’day chairs; his love of culture generally (his architect-designed house) and, increasingly, nature, indicated by his return to the site of his family’s farm; his ceaseless intelligence (the ruffled ocean) and clarity of thought (the almost cloudless sky).’
'In the vaguest of ways, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation came to mind as I painted the work: its clarity, its mixture of figures, architecture and landscape,’ says North. 'The portrait, I hope, expresses a certain expansiveness of mind and a positive spirit, conveyed by the strong, pervasive light. Yet the subject’s expression hovers, for me at least, between patrician aloofness and gentle humanity, reflecting, perhaps, the ultimate impossibility of defining human identity.’
Born in New Zealand in 1945, North came to Australia in 1971. After working as an art museum curator for 15 years and as an academic for a similar period, he has been an independent artist since 2001. He has had nine solo exhibitions in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne since 1986 and has been represented in many major group shows at galleries including the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the University of Wyoming and the Commonwealth Gallery in London amongst others.