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

Katherine Hattam The nightingale and the kookaburra – portrait of Drusilla Modjeska

collaged book pages, charcoal and gouache on linen

200.3 x 150.6 cm

Drusilla Modjeska is an acclaimed author whose books include Poppy (1990) – ‘the imagined biography’ of her mother – and Stravinsky’s lunch (1999), which reappraised the careers of Australian artists Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith.

‘I was introduced to Drusilla when she was writing Stravinsky’s lunch in the 1990s,’ says Melbourne artist Katherine Hattam.

‘Over the past two years, we have discussed the book she is currently writing about women’s self-portraits, and I was fortunate to read parts of the manuscript.’

Modjeska was born in England but is now an Australian citizen; ‘The nightingale and the kookaburra encapsulates that aspect of her,’ says Hattam.

‘For the sitting, I stayed with Drusilla, as I have often done before. I made drawings and took photographs while we had a casual dinner watching the ABC. The image of us relaxing in her house stayed with me. We have discussed how portraits contain elements of an unconscious self-portraiture. My use of text springs from these conversations.’

Represented in last year’s Archibald with a portrait of author Helen Garner, Hattam is also a finalist in this year’s Sulman Prize.

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