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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.

Intense identity

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 1 December 2009

Dr Chistopher Chapman discusses the portrait of Australian author Christos Tsiolkas taken by John Tsiavis.

Christos Tsiolkas, 1998 (printed 2009) John Tsiavis
Christos Tsiolkas, 1998 (printed 2009) John Tsiavis. © John Tsiavis

‘I wanted to give voice to how frustrating, how tortuous the straightjacket of conforming sexuality and gender could be, regardless of whether the norms applied were patriarchal or feminist, heterosexual or gay.’ This is Christos Tsiolkas reflecting on his first novel Loaded (1995) in a recent interview with Michael Williams in Meanjin journal.

Loaded is a powerful portrayal of a concentrated moment in the life of nineteenyear- old Greek Australian, Ari – the expectations of family clashing with Ari’s bold identity and non-conformist and raw masculinity. The complexities of contemporary Australian identity have remained central to Tsiolkas’s work.

Tsiolkas’s 2008 novel The Slap has sold over 50 000 copies and has won several awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The book was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, and is being made into a television series for ABC TV with Tsiolkas as Associate Producer and Story Consultant. The Slap weaves narratives told from the viewpoints of eight different characters, revolving around an incident at a suburban backyard barbecue where a toddler is slapped by an adult who is not his parent. The book deals forcefully with issues of race and class in middle-class Australia. ‘It’s a series of questions being posed by the narrative and the choices that these characters make about questions of discipline, about questions of trust, about questions of care. And I, as Christos Tsiolkas the man, have no set answers to those questions. I do, however, have really firm opinions. That’s the process of engagement that I want readers to have. I want them to start responding to those questions, independent of what I think.’

Tsiolkas was born in Melbourne in 1965 to Greek immigrant parents. Loaded was made into the award-winning film Head On (1997), directed by Anna Kokkinos and starring Alex Dimitriades. Tsiolkas’s third novel, Dead Europe (2005), won the Age Fiction Book of the Year. His non-fiction includes a study of Fred Schepisi’s 1976 film The Devil’s Playground, and the philosophical dialogue Jump Cuts (1996), co-written with the late Sasha Soldatow. Since 1998, Tsiolkas has also worked as a playwright, solo and in collaboration.

Photographer John Tsiavis was born in Melbourne in 1977 and started his photographic career working as a film stills photographer on Australian feature films including Head On, Chopper, Ned Kelly and Jindabyne. He now primarily works as a portrait and fashion photographer and director of television commercials. Tsiavis has photographed many Australian and international creative individuals, including Bono, Al Gore, Chris Lilley, Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush. As stills photographer for Anna Kokkinos’s 1997 film Head On, Tsiavis was inspired to create a folio of portrait photographs of individuals involved with the film. He was introduced to Christos Tsiolkas and took the portraits on their first meeting. The portrait photographs were taken at a time when Tsiolkas’s reputation as a highly talented young writer was developing, the photographs capture Tsiolkas’s edgy persona and reflect the drama of his work.

Related people

Christos Tsiolkas

Related information

Portrait 34, December 2009 - February 2010

Magazine

This issue features Australian cricketers, surfing legend Isabel Letham, Christos Tsiolkas, Bob Brown's portrait by Harold 'The Kangaroo' Thornton, James Angus, virtual portraits and more.

Mary Ann Lawrence, 1841
Mary Ann Lawrence, 1841
Mary Ann Lawrence, 1841

Fits of delicacy and despair

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour

Henry Mundy's portraits flesh out notions of propriety and good taste in a convict colony.

Geo Face Distributor, 2009 James Angus
Geo Face Distributor, 2009 James Angus
Geo Face Distributor, 2009 James Angus

Abstraction and figuration

Magazine article by Dr Christopher Chapman

James Angus discusses his major sculpture commission Geo Face Distributor with Christopher Chapman.

My father-in-law watering his garden, 1986 by Davida Allen
My father-in-law watering his garden, 1986 by Davida Allen
My father-in-law watering his garden, 1986 by Davida Allen

Lovingly observed

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow

Sarah Engledow previews the beguiling summer exhibition, Idle hours.

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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.