Hero or Hungry Ghost?

Love Ones – soon after the “Hero” post I received this sadly telling portrait of Heath Ledger, age 28, painted by his friend Vincent Fantauzzo just before the actor’s death. To me it says it all. 


Heath Ledger appeared in almost 20 films including such critical and box-office successes as A Knight’s Tale, and Brokeback Mountain for which he was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Actor in a Leading Role”. Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment on 22 January from what the coroner has ruled to be an accidental drug overdose.

Simply titled ”Heath” the portrait features three versions of the actor – all rather haggard-looking – the one in the center is flanked by two conspiratorial figures whispering in his ears. The image “was an idea we discussed together and came up with…..it was about how we all have different consciences and voices in our head that tell us what to do and how to act. They’re not good or bad, they’re just voices that we hear, telling us how to behave. That’s what the other figures are in the painting”. They look like hungry ghosts.

The portrait is a finalist in this year’s prestigious Archibald Prize, Australia’s top award for portraiture. For a stunning look at all the finalists for this year’s prize go to http://www.thearchibaldprize.com.au/finalists/archibald

arch-portrait.jpgThe Archibald was first awarded in 1921 for the best portrait of a “distinguished Australian”. Most of the original winners were “stuffed shirts” like this of Dr. Alexander Leeper by John Longstaff.

images-800-x-600.jpgCelebrated Australian painter William Dobell shook things up when his portrait of fellow artist Joshua Smith with its crazy colors and distortion won in 1934 and triggered a heated debate about Modernism and whether the painting was portraiture or caricature, not to mention a legal challenge by some disgruntled traditionalists.

bw-portrait.jpgMy buddy Brett Whiteley shook things up again in 1976 when his “Self Portrait in the Studio” merely showed the artist’s face reflected in a hand mirror amid the eclectic clutter of his studio.

Whiteley followed this win with another controversial win in 1978. Art, Life and the Other Thing is a triptych built around three issues; a realistic portrayal of Whiteley which highlights the status of photographic representation in portraiture, the central figure of Whiteley distorted to highlight the Dobell controversy, Art and Life, and the “other thing” a representation of Whiteley’s own battle with heroin addiction. More Hungry Ghosts.


The winner is being announced on Friday March 7th – I’ll keep you posted.

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