Christopher McVinish

Portrait of Robyn Nevin

oil on canvas
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In a career spanning five decades, Robyn Nevin has acted and directed for all Australian state theatre companies. She was Artistic Director and CEO of Sydney Theatre Company from 1999 to 2007, after holding the same position at Queensland Theatre Company for three years. In 1991, she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the arts.

Christopher McVinish, who is an avid theatregoer, was living in Brisbane when she headed QTC. ‘Her work created quite a buzz and I’ve followed her career ever since,’ he says.

‘When theatre critic John McCallum suggested that I paint Robyn for the Archibald, I jumped at the opportunity. She has such an interesting face – there’s a complex character at play in those features – and I’d just seen her in Eugene O’Neill’s Long day’s journey into night where she gave one of the greatest performances of her career.

‘I decided to focus right in on her face, framed by her trademark dramatic white hair, with a lot of shadow down one side. I wanted to capture a combination of that defiant gaze and yet a vulnerability as well, flickering there in an expression she revealed in the first sittings for a study I did in preparation for the final larger portrait: a look of almost fierce strength, but also one of almost being “caught out” which I liked. The study was very expressive. In order not to lose that immediacy in the final portrait, it was done as much with my fingers and hands as my brushes. Wiping on the paint and scraping back created the feeling I’d felt I’d achieved in the study.’