An image of John Travers

Adam Cullen

(Australia 09 Oct 1965 – 28 Jul 2012)

John Travers

Location
Not on display
Further information

Adam Cullen turned to portrait painting in 1997 when he began entering the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Cullen eventually won in 2000 with his portrait of actor David Wenham and portraits have since become an important part of Cullen’s practice. Typically they are rapidly executed and have all the immediacy and expressive power of quickly applied paint that drips, pools and runs down the canvas. However Cullen usually has sketched and thought through the portrait composition before executing the work so that the image is fixed in his mind prior to applying paint to canvas. This tension between control and spontaneity adds to the expressive power of the works.

In 2003 Cullen was invited to participate in an exhibition entitled ‘Anita & beyond’ at the Penrith Regional Gallery, which explored the legacy of local beauty queen and nurse Anita Cobby’s brutal murder in 1986. Cullen’s controversial contribution was portraits of Anita’s five convicted killers. The strongest of his portraits was of ringleader John Travers, painted from the police mug shot that appeared again and again in media reports of the murder – an image that remains fixed in time even as Travers ages in prison.

The reds, yellows and blues in the face of the portrait give it a flushed and garish hue, while the downcast eyes are mute, giving nothing away. This masking of vision occurs often in Cullen’s figures and is strongly suggestive, implying both an unknowable inner world and a lack of engagement. There is a fine line between the criminal as underdog, celebrated in Australian culture as the antihero who stands up against a repressive law and order as we see in the prevalence of legends such as Ned Kelly’s within the national and artistic psyche, and the flip side of the criminal sociopaths and killers demonised for their horrific crimes. The picking and choosing of which criminals achieve antihero status and which remain beyond redemption can seem somewhat arbitrary since brutality is often a common factor and the perceived innocence or guilt of the victim seems to moderate the public response.

Year
2003
Media
Painting
Medium
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Dimensions
152.5 x 121.5 cm
Credit
Anonymous gift 2008
Accession number
264.2008
Copyright
© Estate of Adam Cullen. Licensed by Copyright Agency