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Bill Leak describes his portrait of Paul LePetit as ‘one of my dearest friends at one of his bleakest moments’. LePetit is the film critic for the Sunday Telegraph, a former chairman of the Sydney Theatre Critics Circle and president of the Film Critics Circle of Australia.
‘I caught Paul at one of the lowest points in his life when he was almost paralysed by a serious case of clinical depression’, says Leak. ‘We have been incredibly close friends for many years and we share a sense of humour. We’re both manic depressives so it’s ironic that when we’re together we spend most of the time laughing our heads off. Even when he was so down recently, he always maintained his marvellous sense of humour.’
Leak says he wanted the portrait to be a tribute. ‘I wanted to paint his shadow so that it has a sort of defiance, strength and resilience about it – which at the time Paul had lost. I concentrated on making the shape of it like Rodin’s statue of Balzac, with a grandeur about it that Paul was leaving behind. Recently, however, he’s made a terrific comeback and the portrait doesn’t look like him now. That haunted look has gone.’
Leak took three years off from painting to write a novel, Heart cancer, which was published in 2005. Picking up the paintbrush again, he says, has been a joy. Now living on NSW’s Central Coast, he finds himself painting with renewed enthusiasm. ‘I used to use lots of glazes and ever smaller brushes, but lately I’ve just slapped the paint on’, he says. ‘That’s what I’ve done with Paul’s portrait. It’s quite thickly and directly painted and I’m thrilled with it.’
Born in Adelaide in 1956, Leak is an artist and political cartoonist/illustrator for The Australian newspaper, where he has won eight Walkley awards and 19 Stanley awards. He has been an Archibald finalist on 11 previous occasions and has portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. His cartoons have been published in two books: Drawing blood (1998) and Moments of truth (2005).