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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 both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Super League

by David Sequeira, 1 September 2004

The portrait of Ian Roberts by Ross Watson.

Ian Roberts (after Coypel 1709), 2003 Ross Watson
Ian Roberts (after Coypel 1709), 2003 Ross Watson

Paintings by Melbourne based artist Ross Watson have found their way into private and public collections around the world. The collections of Sir Elton John and James Wolfenson include works by Watson. Now the National Portrait Gallery is added to this list of collectors.

Watson's males come from a narrow demographic: they are handsome and elegant. These are the smooth skinned, lean, defined, muscular bodies often associated with gay iconography. Appearing as potent symbols of youth, sexuality, beauty and energy these figures represent Watson's interest, or perhaps obsession with the idea of a physical elite. In this light, these paintings can be seen as an adulation of a particular male physique.

In his portrait Ian Roberts (after Coypel 1709), Watson presents his subject in a mythological setting. Roberts rises from sea, to be surrounded by three of the classical gods and putti who playfully dive into the water and fly off into the heavens. Roberts enters the scene gently stretching his body, his arms raised and crossed above his head. Apparently disconnected from Roberts, the other figures in the painting continue their activities oblivious to Roberts's interruption of their world.

Ian Roberts, now an actor, was one of a handful of openly gay professional footballers. Roberts grew up in South Coogee and began playing for the Rugby League club South Sydney in 1986. Four years later, in a move that made him Rugby League's highest paid player, he left Souths for Manly. In 1995 he signed with the Super League, and left Manly to captain the Townsville Cowboys. In late 2000 he was accepted into National Institute of Dramatic Art. Since graduating, he has appeared in several feature films and stage productions.

The leather wrist band comes from a costume worn by Roberts in a play by Shakespeare. His nakedness suggests a certain shedding or letting go. Roberts offered to pose nude for Watson as a representation of how much he has changed since attending NIDA.

Ian Robertscomes from a series of paintings to which Watson refers as 'La Galerie des Glaces' or Hall of Mirrors. In these works, contemporary figures are placed in or against art historical settings. Vermeer, Poussin, Bronzino and in the case of Ian Roberts, Coypel, are only some of the great masters from whom Watson borrows. Steeped in ambiguity, the work of these artists provides Watson with a dramatic location for his subjects. Antoine Coypel (1661-1722), was a French painter in the Baroque style whose most famous works adorn the ceiling of the Chapel at Versailles (1708).

Watson explains his interest in old master paintings as being connected to an uncertainty about what is actually happening in the paintings. Of particular fascination is the distinction between seeing the figures in such paintings and knowing what they are thinking, feeling or doing. The location of contemporary male figures within the context of old master paintings is a further teasing out of this uncertainty. Watson heightens the ambiguity of these images by imbuing his subjects with a cool detachment from the historical setting.

Related people

Ian Roberts

Ross Watson

Related information

Portrait 13, September - November 2004

Magazine

This issue of Portrait Magazine features Nancy Wake, Jon Campbell's portrait of Paul Kelly, George Selth Coppin, Henri Cartier-Bresson and more.

The Jester (self portrait), 1923 Lionel Lindsay
The Jester (self portrait), 1923 Lionel Lindsay
The Jester (self portrait), 1923 Lionel Lindsay

Bloodlines

Magazine article by Michelle Fracaro

Michelle Fracaro describes Lionel Lindsay's woodcut The Jester (self-portrait).

Losing Faith, 2004 by Alexandra Cody
Losing Faith, 2004 by Alexandra Cody
Losing Faith, 2004 by Alexandra Cody

Time is precious

Magazine article by David Sequeira

Headspace5: Crystal Gazing highlighted the diversity of materials and techniques that young people use for self expression. David Sequeira presents a personal view of three works in the exhibition.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

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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 both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.