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The inimitable Red Symons was a guitarist in the iconic 70s Australian band Skyhooks. During the 80s and 90s he pioneered the role of the acerbic talent show judge on Channel Nine’s long-running variety show Hey Hey It’s Saturday and Red Faces. He has since appeared on television shows such as Neighbours and Big Brother. A science graduate in computer programming and pure maths, he currently hosts the breakfast radio program on 774 ABC Melbourne and is also a composer and writer.
Phillip Barnes was keen to paint a portrait that explored the tension between the private and public persona and felt that Symons fitted the bill. Barnes had initially intended to create a textured, multi-layered work that explored the differences between the Skyhooks Red, Hey Hey Red, quiz king Red, ABC Red and family Red. But he was forced to do a quick rethink at the first sitting when Symons said he feels our public and private persona merge as we get older and that there is only one Red.
However, over time and several other sittings, Barnes discovered that the character Symons created as the nasty TV judge is nothing like the real man and so he decided to use two contrasting images.
Usually Barnes uses colour. He starts with a highly detailed drawing then overlays it with materials such as gold, silver, aluminium plate, Perspex, glass and steel. In this instance, he felt the monochrome captured the black and white way in which many see Symons. It is also a reference to Symons science background and the fact that his father was a photographer, so Symons was surrounded by black and white images as a child.
Designed as two separate but joined works, the image on the left mimics a famous Robert Mapplethorpe photograph of 1980 while the one on the right is a classic Red pose from Hey Hey It’s Saturday days.
Born in Melbourne in 1954, Barnes studied sculpture at Melbourne University, La Trobe University and the University of New England. He has been a painter for 35 years but prefers to do his work to raise money for charities rather than exhibition. This is his first time in the Archibald Prize.