Geoff Ostling is a recently retired history teacher living in Sydney. Heavily tattooed, his body is like a living canvas. After he dies, he has promised to bequeath his skin to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The story of how this will be done was told in a half-hour documentary called Skin, which was shown at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival in New York and screened locally on ABC-TV.
While teaching, Ostling only had his body tattooed up to his short sleeve and neck line. Very few of the students or their parents knew anything about the ‘artwork’. However, since retiring Ostling is completing his Sydney, the garden of earthly delights body suit.
‘Geoff is a complex and fascinating man and an institution in the Sydney gay community,’ says Nick Stathopoulos. ‘I painted him from behind because his tattoos by acclaimed artist eX de Medici of botanically accurate Australian native wildflowers, like the Gymea lily, the waratah, the wattle are the way he is most recognisable. A lot of his identity comes from his tattoos; it is his tattoos that have made him famous.’
As well as completing his suit, Ostling will have the existing parts of his tattoo touched up at intervals to keep the colour strong. ‘I asked him if the pain ever gets less and he said “no, it’s always painful but it’s euphoric and well worth the effort because something beautiful comes from it”.’
Before getting started on the portrait, Stathopoulos textured the canvas so that it resembles human skin, giving it a nice tactile quality. He used extreme lighting to capture the quality of the tattoos. Normally his portrait paintings take around two weeks. This took six weeks of 12-hour days.
Born in Sydney in 1959, Stathopoulos did a Bachelor of Arts and Law at Macquarie University. He has worked as a professional artist since graduating in 1983 and is an award-winning illustrator. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2003 and 2008 and has also been a two-time finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. In 2009 he had a solo exhibition called Toy porn at Sydney’s NG Art Gallery.