The Lunar Savant (Portrait of McLean Edwards), 2017
Acrylic On Canvas, 198 x 91cm
Moran Prize 2017 – Winner
Michael: Yesterday afternoon we learnt the winner of Australia’s richest art prize The Doug Moran National Portrait prize, it’s worth $150,000, and it’s gone to the New South Wales painter Tim Storrier. Now last time we spoke to Tim was back in 2012, when he won the Archibald prize for his beautiful wistful portrait without a face called the “Histrionic Wayfarer”. Welcome back Tim and congratulations.
Tim: Yes, thank you Michael, nice to be here.
Michael: Lovely to have you in the studio. So, to enter the Archibald you have to paint a portrait of an eminent person, are there rules of who you can portray for the Doug Moran prize?
Tim: No, there is no stipulation on the sitter at all.
Michael: It just has to be a picture of a person.
Tim: Yes, I mean it does but the interesting thing about it is, its slightly more modern because people this year, they had 1,173 entries, and one of the reasons for that is the initial selection is done electronically, people sent in a file of their painting, and therefore a lot more people can enter.
Michael: That’s very advanced isn’t it, so your winning picture is called the “Lunar Savant” which is a portrait of fellow artist McLean Edwards who is also with us. Hi McLean.
McLean: Hi Michael, how are you going?
Michael: I am well. Let’s describe this for the listener, now listener if you go to our web site you will find the picture there or find it online, just look for the “Lunar Savant”, so let’s try and describe this. Does it look like you, I suppose is the first question? McLean, is that you?
McLean: I think there is a significant component of my personality in it. Yes I do, not the closest approximation of a likeness that you could have.
Michael: Or the most faltering, having seen pictures of you, you don’t have a big “Rudolf the Reindeer” red nose.
McLean: No, but you must allow an artist to commit his subject with a bit of poetic license.
Michael: Yes, fair enough, so it’s a hyper realistic picture of you, you are viewed from low down, in fact the eye line is almost at your feet, so you’re looking heroically tall on this flat plain and behind you there is a night sky, that’s sort disappearing into infinity and you’re got the moon over your shoulder.
McLean: It’s very beautiful, isn’t it, that moonlight.
Michael: yes it’s a fabulous effect, so the overcoat, Tim, does McLean have an overcoat quite as disgusting as the one you have put him in.
Tim: Well no, but neither do I, that old coat spent most of its life in the boot of my late father’s car and even with that experience it wasn’t as filthy as I made it. I become very, very, cleaver at painting strains when I painted the portrait of Les Patterson, so I am good at strains, and I thought I must utilise this facility.
Michael: So, we have to thank Barry Humphries for the stains all over that coat, and there is a beautiful, is it a little pink rose in the lapel?
Michael: So there is a little moment of perfection there amid all this shambolicness, if that’s a word, and the subject is wearing one shoe on and one shoe off, I think there is a fairy tale or nursey rhyme…, and the shoe that’s off isn’t quite hitting the ground, it’s sort of floating a bit.
Tim: Yes maybe, the reason is, when you paint a portrait over a period of time the thing develops a life of its own, it sort of just grows, as a poet would write a piece of poetry, and one thing just leads to another.
Michael: I do feel there are symbols lurking here, there is little bit of Hieronymus Bosch about this, there is cigarette in his hand, and sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette, do we feel that, are we being invited to read this very beautiful picture?
Tim: Well, I suppose the answer to that is yes, I don’t think it should be taken that literally. I mean and if I had my druthers I wouldn’t answer the question about why he has only one shoe on, the short answer is it seems to indicate vulnerability, so it’s a metaphor in a sense, and nearly everything including the dirty old coat is a bit of metaphor for McLean.
Michael: McLean, how do you read the metaphor?
McLean: I am struck by how everything works in that painting, in tandem including as you pointed out, the symbols and in conjunction and in tandem what they all add up to, which is sort of answering a question of identity, to a degree I think.
Michael: and what is the answer to that question? In so far that it’s about you and revealing you, and when you look in that mirror, what do you see, what do you think the world has been told about you?
McLean: I see something of the holy fool, something of the holy fool, my first reaction to the painting was a self-aware Samuel Beckett character actually, in a beautifully constructed painting.
Michael: It could be you playing Vladimir or Estragon I guess, who are the characters from, what’s it called the play?
McLean: “Waiting for Godot”.
Michael: Yes, I mean It is a very Beckett landscape in the sense that I feel as though the universe goes on forever but if we were to go to the end of it, we wouldn’t find the answer to any questions.
McLean: Fragility as well, the poetic nature of fragile, identity and vulnerability and vicissitudes of life, that you refer to the posture and the way I am standing in that painting, there is something defined there as well and singular, that is part of the identify I think.
Michael: The low view point, almost looking up at you makes you heroic even amidst this this kind of Beckett nullity.
McLean: Yes, I would like to think so.
Michael: McLean as a painter yourself you are fabulous at expressing the vulnerability, the fragility, of people even when you paint yourself. I mean I have seen portraits you have done of yourself and you look fragile and vulnerable in them. I have never seen you paint yourself quiet as heroically as this, even though this is a much more comic view of you than you might have given us.
McLean: My own adventures in self-portraiture have a kind of comedic aspect to them, and I think we should mention in Tim’s painting there is a funny affectionate sense of a person in a place, and its actually an amusing painting and it remains amusing a very tragic comic kind of way.
Michael: Here we are Tim talking about you, which I guess puts you in the position that McLean is in, because everyone is looking about what you said about him, and now we can talk about you. Are you nodding your head as we discuss this work you have created?
Tim: I don’t know what you are talking about frankly, I never actually thought it was as good as that. He is on the money, he is a good judge, all qualified artists or good artists, are good at reading other artists work whether they like it or not.
Michael: Yes, so what do you demur from, as we are talking, Tim?
Tim: Well, I suppose he understands what I was trying to do, it’s pretty accurate I think, but as I said a picture like that evolves over a number of months, you know, for instance, the initial studies were just drawings of his head, which I had actually started a number of years ago. The first thing with a portraiture is actually to get the structure of the face, to achieve that likeness and then once you’ve got to that part you start the real work, which is to closely study what you are doing, and work out exactly what you trying to say about this particular face, the expression, which way the eyes are looking, the shadows, all those sorts of things you have to labour over very strenuously, to get what you want.
Quite often the point is made, photography is compared to a portrait painting, there is really not much of a comparison at all because photographs, the great thing about photographs is that they really capture time, so what you get with a photographic portrait is an instance in time and its only one look at that person, whereas with a painting there are a million decisions made, so the inspection is much more thorough and harsh.
Michael: So, all times are eternally present in the one picture.
Tim: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. So, for instance, when I was started to get the face right, I was a bit fortunate as these things have a life of their own. I was lucky that the initial drawing onto the canvas stood up pretty well, it was very, very, close to the initial study. So, I got off to a good start and then really and truly, he had a suit on and a tie and I was going to make it more like a Georgian portrait and just have a very dark background with very little in it. On that scale, it didn’t work at all. So, it then it just evolved, I got rid of the suit, threw away one of his shoes, threw the tie away, I didn’t throw the tie away, I got another tie. The tie that he is wearing, is the same tie that he wore, when he painted a portrait of me a long time ago. So, we have a bit of a joke about this funny old Turnbull and Asser tie, that he wears sometimes and I wear it sometimes.
Michael: Some scholar hundreds of years from now will spot this and a whole thesis will come out of it. There is a phD in that tie. How did the two of you first meet?
Tim: Oh, it was at one of the heroic lunches at Ray Hughes gallery that used to start at about 11 o’clock, people fell out onto the street usually around 9 or 10 at night. He remained polite for the whole day, which is very unusual at those sort artists lunches, they are notorious for some rather ill temper.
Michael: But this was a nice occasion
Tim: Yes, it was, it was interesting, I knew of McLean ‘s work, I had been watching it, I was curious about it and I liked these pictures because they are creations. A plein-air painter for instance, to use the French term, studies from life, outside or inside, still life in front of an artist. McLean doesn’t do that at all. It’s all conjured from the recesses of his mind.
Michael: Where did painting begin for you Tim?
Tim: Well, my mother was a rather poor Sunday painter, but she was very enthusiastic. I was bought up watching my mother trying to make paintings and she worked very hard at it, but of course Wellington in the early fifties and so forth – it was only the women you know, the men regarded a boy pursuing this sort of thing as rather effete, I think, the women didn’t and they were more sensitive to what I was trying to do. Then I won a prize at the Wellington show, I have still got the rather elaborate certificate. I can’t remember what the hell I did, but it was a natural sort of thing and in the end of course, I failed to learn French, I failed to learn to play the piano, no good at rugby, the only thing I was any good at all as it turned out really, was History I suppose, and learning to paint and draw.
Michael: And what about you McLean, how did you get into the game?
McLean: I was in high school and one of my paintings was in the school fete in Canberra, sought of shonky landscape, it was bought by the late Judy Behan who ran Chapman Galleries, this was in year 11 actually. She said look, if you feel like making more paintings I can sell them for you. So, I was quite young with my introduction into the mercantile maelstrom in the art world. Previous to that I didn’t want to pursue a career in art after school and go to art school and all that sort of thing. My mind was pregnant with possibilities of life as an artist. I got an early break if you will, by Judy.
Michael: That’s a fantastic story, what a great thing to happen when you’re a kid. Now we were talking about Beckett, McLean you bought Beckett up and a sense that there is a kind of emptiness in the universe. I am just looking at your web site here Tim, and on your web site you have an epitaph from T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”, between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow”, which is a very bleak quote to put at the top of your web site. What resonates there for you?
Tim: Well it’s true of just about any creative act, I think it’s all very well to imagine it, but if you don’t have the skills to pull it off, there is the shadow you see. It’s actually a poet making a remark about the creative process, and I think he has done it very well. It’s one of my favourite poems I would have to say.
Michael: “We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw”.
Michael: Alas! know, I can probably recite it all the way through. I mean it also seems to me a kind of reflection of impotence perhaps real or creative, it’s not quite clear with Eliot, but “between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow”.
Do you feel that there?
Tim: Well, with all good poetry the reason it is poetry, it quite often has more than one meaning or it can be interpreted quite a lot of different ways. I can never quite work out what he is up to with that thing, I have got a book at home where he shows his corrections he put into it and a lot of his poetry is actually very visual, and when you look at the visual references he makes, nearly all of them go back to his own life, you know.
Michael: Yes, well he was influenced by painting quite a lot. Well, thank you, Tim and thank you McLean and congratulations to you both.
Artist Tim Storrier has just won the Doug Moran National portrait prize for his work the “Lunar Savant” which depicts McLean Edwards. The exhibition of those pictures opens today at Juniper Hall in Paddington, and you can see a photo of the winning work on our web site. Just look for us on Books and Arts on RN. I am Michael Cathcart.
Transcribed 23 October 2017 by Prue Storrier