We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

Abbey McCulloch Nell

oil and charcoal on canvas

90 x 150 cm

A television presenter specialising in the arts, Nell Schofield currently presents a weekly film show for Showtime. She has also reported for ABC Radio National and written for many publications including The Sydney Morning Herald and Vogue Australia. In 2007, she was trained by former US Vice President Al Gore to present his Climate Project slideshow.

Abbey McCulloch grew up on the Gold Coast surrounded by the surfing culture. Schofield’s role as surfie chick Debbie in Bruce Beresford’s cult film Puberty blues was a defining character for her. “My friends and I would watch it in high school and giggle at the sometimes frightening parallels between our world and that of the film’s characters,” she says.

“There’s something about surfing that represents a constant simplicity and a lifestyle based around this, and on sustaining a youthful, unfettered attitude. Nell represented all of this and meeting her was a huge deal. We met at the Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast and she was just this wide-eyed dynamo. I loved her transparency and the feeling that she was so aware of everything going on around her. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t miss a trick. I hope this painting captures something brave and quietly zealous about her.”

McCulloch is still new to the process of portraiture. “There is a fleeting moment between capturing the character and destroying it and it’s that space I enjoy,” she says. “For that, I rely on drawing. I am always aware that an over painted portrait can be suffocating. I wanted to give the painting a pulse – it helps to learn to walk away when it is still challenging you.”

Born in New Zealand in 1975, McCulloch lives in Queensland. She recently completed a Research Masters in Visual Arts at the Queensland College of Arts. She was represented in the 2007 Archibald Prize with a painting of actor Toni Collette. Her portrait of Schofield is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.