Tom Polo’s subject is artist Joan Ross, who won last year’s Sulman Prize and is a finalist again this year.
‘I’ve known Joan for a decade, during which time she’s become a generous friend and mentor,’ says Polo, a Sydney-based artist.
‘Joan’s signature use of fluorescent yellow acts as a metaphor for colonisation and its continuing impact on contemporary Australia. I’ve extended this in my painting to represent our shared interests in camouflage and costuming. The contrasting black and yellow create a psychological space that Joan is somewhat invisible within, and a vulnerability that is often unseen,’ he says.
‘Joan is one of the most insightful people I know. Sometimes all it takes is what I call “the look” from Joan to know exactly what she is thinking. This act of looking, or looking away, is central to my portrait of Joan. She appears to be turning away from the eyes of another, represented by the text “I once thought I’d do anything for you” – a title borrowed from one of her drawings. For me, these words carry a deep sadness whilst offering the clarity of self-realisation. The sentiment is personally relatable and so the painting has become a portrait of myself too.’