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Tongan-born Fuifui Moimoi began his first-grade rugby league career with the Parramatta Eels in 2004 where he quickly earned the admiration of the fans along with nicknames such as Steam Train, Wrecking Ball and the Tongan Torpedo. Over the years, he has become a cult hero at the club.
Nicolee Payne decided to paint this portrait after meeting him. ‘I had painted a portrait of him as a gift for my daughter and asked him to sign it for her at a fan day,’ she says. ‘What I saw in him that day was a kind, humble and gentle man: quite the opposite to the tough front row forward on the football field. I wanted to try and capture those two contrasting persona in the one expression so that the viewer not only connected with the fearless warrior he carries in him from his Tongan ancestors but could also look into his eyes and see his beautiful, gentle soul.’
Payne originally envisaged painting him with his trademark hair unbraided but when he sat for her his hair was braided. ‘I don’t believe the painting would have had the same impact if his hair had become the focus,’ she says.
This is Payne’s first entry in the Archibald Prize and only her third oil painting. She has painted with acrylics for over 30 years. Though her first love is painting portraits and animals, most of her commissioned work is of a fantasy and spiritual nature.