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Tianli Zu Tim and kelp

acrylic and oil on linen

221 x 191 cm

When Tianli Zu approached her portrait subject, the environmental activist and scientist Tim Flannery, she said she was ‘worried about the environmental crisis that’s threatening our everyday lives and our children’.

Zu says: ‘Tim’s idea of using seaweed to combat climate change came to mind when our country was in the midst of the bushfires earlier this year. The painting was the product of five years’ observation and study and six months of painting.’

Zu sketched Flannery in January outside his home, surrounded by bushland. ‘I first painted many layers of green and red, as if farming kelp on the canvas. Tim then emerged from the kelp.

‘The symbiosis between humans and the environment resonates with Eastern philosophies of human beings as part of a fragile nature. Tim is a much-needed voice of urgency. The work is a call to action, to combine creativity, science and ecological awareness. Tim says it’s a grave threat, but one that can be overcome. There is hope.’

Born in China in 1963, Zu moved to Australia in 1988. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and a Master of Fine Arts and a PhD from Sydney College of Fine Arts at the University of Sydney. This is her second time as an Archibald Prize finalist.

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