Matt Adnate believes a person’s strength of character is evident in their face.
“Facial expressions alone make a good portrait,” says the Melbourne artist, better known solely by his surname. “But at the same time I try not to be too direct.”
Adnate is one of four street artists participating in the ANZ Inspiring Locals project, immortalising Australian change-makers in high-profile locations around Sydney. Adnate’s subject is Indigenous housing activist Jenny Munro, leader of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a recent 15-month campaign in inner-city Sydney. Munro has been fighting for Aboriginal housing rights for more than 40 years.
“I’m going to keep the expression and style of her portrait subtle,” says Adnate. “But if a viewer comes along and knows Munro’s story, I want to draw out their story, too.” The artist says painting Indigenous people’s portraits in public spaces helps put their issues in plain sight. “Over the last few years I’ve been painting Australian Indigenous people to create awareness of their struggles,” he says. “Before this, I had wool over my eyes. To be able to work with and meet someone like Jenny Munro has been a blessing.”
Luke Cornish echoes this sentiment. Cornish, who goes by the name E.L.K, and who is the first-ever stencil artist to become an Archibald Prize finalist, has painted portraits of both composer Dr Nicholas Milton AM, and Father Dave, who established Father Dave’s Fight Club, a Dulwich Hill organisation that uses boxing to help disadvantaged young men deal with anger issues.
Cornish says it’s a street artist’s imperative to honour the community members who deserve to be seen. “Street art is a very popular art form,” he says. “It’s like having a megaphone. In a gallery, you might get 1000 people seeing your work but with a street portrait you might get 10,000. So you have to do a good job.”
Cornish is close friends with Father Dave. The pair recently spent two weeks together in Syria working with disadvantaged kids. “We’ve become quite close,” says Cornish. “I’m glad I’m painting him in the Sydney CBD. It’s the best location for giving people the opportunity to view the portrait. (Cornish will paint Milton’s portrait in Chatswood). I’m hoping to portray Father Dave’s selflessness. I think anyone who’s making a positive impact should be celebrated.”
For Melbourne-based artist Kaff-eine, location is a key element of her contribution to the project. Kaff-eine has painted a portrait of Katherine Hudson, LGBTIQ activist and founder of the Wear it Purple campaign, in Bondi Junction.
“I really like that I’ll be painting this portrait representing Katherine and her campaign to celebrate rainbow [LGBTIQ] people and stop homophobic bullying in an area popular with tourists,” says Kaff-eine. “It’s not the obvious centre for young rainbow folks.”
Kaff-eine thinks the message will have more of an impact in Bondi Junction than well-known rainbow-friendly suburbs such as, Newtown, Enmore or Kings Cross. “I hope young LGBTIQ people watching me paint Katherine’s portrait will feel proud that their community will be represented by a large, positive presence in honour of her work,” she says.
Artist Stormie Mills thinks street portraits are a two-way exchange between the artist and the public. Mills has painted Nathan Hindmarsh, the retired Parramatta Eels player and White Ribbon ambassador, who campaigns against domestic violence and works to raise awareness of gambling addiction, on a wall in Parramatta. Mills hopes to highlight a side of Hindmarsh the rugby league player’s fans might not have encountered before.
“Usually when you’re painting in public spaces, people don’t feel inhibited about coming up to ask questions,” says Mills. “That exchange of information is really important. The thing I’ve noticed about Nathan, from doing drawings and taking his photograph, is that he has achieved an awful amount but still has this sense of wonder. He is larger than life. He seems invincible on the rugby field, but he’s a human being as well. That’s what I want to capture.”
As principal sponsor of the Archibald Prize, ANZ is already committed to making a meaningful contribution to Sydney through the arts and has commissioned these portraits to add value to public spaces. Spaces that artists such as Adnate, Cornish, Kaff-eine and Stormie Mills have made their canvasses.
This article presented in partnership with ANZ.