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Study of Louis Nowra, 2018

by Imants Tillers

Study of Louis Nowra
Study of Louis Nowra, 2018 Imants Tillers. © Imants Tillers

Louis Nowra (b. 1950), writer, grew up in dire family circumstances on a housing commission estate in Melbourne. Through his uncle, who was a stage manager for JC Williamson, he developed an interest in theatre. In 1973, having abandoned his literary studies at La Trobe University, he began his career as a playwright with several pieces for the avant- garde Melbourne theatre company La Mama. In the mid-70s he changed his name and moved to Sydney, where John Bell directed his play Inner Voices at the Nimrod Theatre in 1977, and Rex Cramphorn his Visions in a converted cinema near Hyde Park in 1978. Over the 1980s he was resident dramatist with the State Theatre Company of South Australia, wrote The Golden Age (1985), and adapted Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia for the Belvoir Theatre (1988). His first semi-autobiographical play, Summer of the Aliens (1992), was followed immediately by his second, Così (which won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Prize) and, much later, a third, This Much is True (2017). Along with dozens of plays including Radiance (1993) and the ‘Boyce trilogy’ of 2004-2006 he has brought forth the memoir The Twelfth of Never (2000), which won the Courier-Mail Book of the Year Award, and the novel Ice (2009) which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He was a member of the writing team for the acclaimed SBS TV series, First Australians, which took out several major writing awards in 2009. His non-fiction writing includes the long essay Bad Dreaming (2007), Kings Cross: A biography (2013) and Woolloomooloo: A biography (2017).

Imants Tillers

‘The subtitle to this painting could well have been: “where’s Coco?” Coco is the name of Louis’ and Mandy Sayer’s pet chihuahua – part of their family and a famous subject for both their writings. My portrait of Louis, moreover, which does include Coco (somewhere), is a kind of mental picture rather than a physical one. Also, after several enjoyable meetings with Louis his subconscious spoke to me. It told me that Louis would be happy if I painted the back of his head or even depicted him as a stick figure. So I did both. Furthermore, on reading several books by Louis my suspicions were confirmed and I realised that he was truly FEARLESS in his life and work, and this is what I wanted, above all, to portray.’

Imants Tillers (b. 1950) is a visual artist, writer and curator based in Cooma, New South Wales. His signature canvasboard paintings are informed by the contemporary diasporic experience, and often respond to issues of migration, identity, place and displacement. He graduated from the University of Sydney with an Honours degree in architecture, and has exhibited widely since the late 1960s, representing Australia at important international exhibitions including the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1975, Documenta 7 in 1982, and the 42nd Venice Biennale in 1986. Tillers has won the Gold, Silver and Bronze prizes at the Osaka Triennale (1993-2001), and in 2003 he won the inaugural Beijing International Art Biennale Prize for Excellence. In 2018 the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga presented a large-scale retrospective exhibition of his work, Journey to Nowhere, which was accompanied by a catalogue co-published by Power Publications at the University of Sydney, and a feature-length documentary on his life and work, Thrown into the World. In 2019 Tillers will join the Purvītis Prize Panel of Judges alongside Klaus Biesenbach, Ursula Krinzinger, Milena Orlova, Galila Barzilaï-Hollander and Udo Kittelmann.

Commissioned with funds provided by Tim Bednall, Jillian Broadbent AO, John Kaldor AO and Naomi Milgrom AO 2018

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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