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Abbey McCulloch is a huge fan of Toni Collette, star of films such as Little Miss Sunshine, The sixth sense, Muriel’s wedding and About a boy.
‘I don’t know if there’s another actor out there who can give you a glance that is so definitively Australian – and by that, I mean the straightforward glare that screams determination’, says McCulloch. ‘When she asked me what I wanted her to do, I told her to stare at me like she “wanted to kill me”. Her husband Dave told me to “be careful, she’s quite a convincing actress”. When her soft eyes immediately deadened, it was clear she could take you to more than two places at once.’
‘I always try to make my work capture some sort of unnerving polarity in terms of these human signals’, says McCulloch. ‘Toni personifies this for me. She has a simultaneous sense of tenacity and calm and these incredible eyelids that are like curtains to the moon.’
‘When I started the piece I wanted the process to be very quick so that the portrait had a lightness and an honest awkwardness. Within minutes of meeting, we were in her garden. It was a tranquil, tropical moment with Sydney pulsing somewhere in the distance. I took the liberty of making her dark hair softer as I wanted the eyes to dominate. And I kept seeing green when I thought of her. I’m sure it was less to do with the Sydney horticulture and more to do with an earthy, grounded association. Meshing some semblance of truth with my style – one that generally fights it – has been quite a task. This encounter has altered the curve of my work forever.’
Born in New Zealand in 1975, McCulloch is now based in Queensland and is completing a research masters degree. She was runner-up in the 2006 Redlands Art Prize. She had three solo shows in 2005, in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and another in Melbourne in 2006. This is her first entry in the Archibald Prize.