This is my entry in the 2017 Archibald prize. Portrait of “Uncle” Robert Henderson, Wiradjuri.
The first thing you notice about Rob is his size and “Popeye” forearms. I decided to paint him with his physical dimensions, including forearms, spilling beyond the canvas. The pose is typical of Rob’s pose before the camera.
Rob is both passionate and humble, a warrior and a gentleman. He is quiet, with a profound message. Rob is closely connected to the spirituality of his people.
The dancing lights connote his spirituality.
He assists prisoners’ rehabilitation. The background connotes metal bars melting away in places giving hope for salvation. I have painted Rob’s tattoos not literally, but as a tapestry on his skin. Life is a tapestry and his tattoos illustrate his journey.
Rob’s shirt shows the fire burning within, inscriptions of a language unknown to the uninitiated but woven into his being, and a face in the middle of his chest. Rob actually has a black T-shirt with a grey face not unlike the one in the painting, but it is also a metaphor of the spirit within, the “third eye” (or eyes) peeking out from his heart and guiding his intentions.
Overall, I have painted Rob as he might appear in a stained glass window in a Cathedral. Saints are people who do the right things for the right reasons, and ultimately make a difference
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