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The full title of Juan Ford’s self-portrait is: A bungled clairvoyance of William Buckley or Ludwig Leichhardt’s most intense moments (I can’t decide which, you choose). Attempted while atop a mountain.
‘Making straightforward portraits is something that bores me a bit,’ admits Ford. ‘Sometimes boring is fine, but right now I feel adventurous.
‘Take Ludwig Leichhardt, the Prussian explorer who disappeared mysteriously in the Australian interior. Idealistic and adventurous, he wandered off, never to be seen again. By all reports he went quite unprepared.
‘Or William Buckley. An escaped convict, he lived for over 30 years with the Wathaurong people on the Bellarine Peninsula. He later married a woman so short she couldn’t loop her arm through his when they went for an evening stroll. What a character.
‘When I try to imagine such mythic men, I make a mess of it, applying my own conventions, thus misunderstanding them utterly. To do so on a mountaintop compounds the problem. But I like to get out into wilderness; it’s where many of my ideas come from. It helps me feel I’m insignificant in the grand scheme. I can’t hope to understand Australia: it’s too vast and unknowable. Buckley and Leichhardt signify this unknowability.’
Ford’s practice ranges from painting to installation. Born in Melbourne in 1973, he has had over 20 solo exhibitions since 1998 and has taken part in more than 140 group shows. This is his third time in the Archibald Prize. He has also been a finalist in the Wynne and Sulman Prizes.