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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.

Observation point

by Kate Beynon, 1 October 2011

Artist Kate Beynon reflects on the place of portraiture in her artistic career.

Painting shirt (Self portrait), 2011 by Kate Beynon
Painting shirt (Self portrait), 2011 by Kate Beynon

In one way or another portraiture has been an integral part of my work for over eighteen years; from fictional female warrior figures and guardian goddesses, to family members (reflecting Chinese and Welsh ancestry), husband Mike, son Rali and self portraits.

Animals and mythical creatures also appear, some closely resembling our dog, Tudo. To me all these faces and figures represent the importance of family connections and exploring crosscultural issues with the influences of travel and an interest in auspicious imagery.

The cartoon heroine Li Ji: Warrior girl (adapted from a forth-century fable) who appeared in animated video works and prints of 2000–02 and later paintings, has been a significant figure recognised as a kind of avatar expressing issues of concern. On her journey to visit Melbourne’s Chinatown, Li Ji contemplated aspects of migration, racial discrimination and a sense of belonging, while experiencing flashbacks to a past life in ancient China. Other fictional or ‘imagined’ female portraits have been inspired by travels to Amsterdam, New York and Rio de Janeiro. These figures represent and embrace being transcultural with their mixed appearances and positions as global citizens.

In 2002, I depicted Mike as the Door God in a version of the armour-clad guardian figures painted at the entrance to the Chan ancestral temple (Chan is my maternal family name). I was interested in the idea of these fierce dark-complexioned figures as positive images. Rali has featured in portraits at various ages, including Lucky fish boy 2002 as a chubby toddler in a work that blends traditional Chinese print imagery with contemporary styling and his distinctive afro. His heritage – Chinese, Welsh, African-American, Native American Pima, Mexican, Jamaican and Irish – reflects the multicultural Australian child. In Self portrait with guardian spirits 2010 my figure sits in half lotus position surrounded by a large swirling gold-scaled dragon and two green ‘lion-dog’ companions that bear some resemblance to our crazy Staffy cross, Tudo. In other works he also appears as guardian creature sporting multi-coloured wings. Painting shirt (Self Portrait) focuses on my favourite art-making shirt. A gift from my parents, the image is Frida Kahlo’s 1939 double self portrait The two Fridas. Now covered in psychedelic paint marks from a brush-wiping habit, I associate this shirt with being in the studio and creative zone. The two Fridas peer out: one in Victorian era dress; one in Mexican Tehuana dress, representing in part Kahlo's mixed heritage.

I am struck with how some of the faces in my work have transformed over the years. From sword wielding Li Ji with her severe frown, trying to reconcile the past with contemporary urban life (she did have to battle a giant python to save her village), to the more serene hybrid guardian goddesses, to the recent self portrait with the ‘up late in the studio’ face and weary eyes. Serious but not looking quite so irritated, the recent figures look for some kind of balance between art and family life; creative expression and dealing with the world. The spirit of Li Ji lives on, but she’s older and calmer, aspiring to assert positive energy with her transcultural vibes.

Related information

Portrait 41, October - November 2011

Magazine

This issue features Kate Beynon, Philosopher Cynthia Freeland, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, John Tsiavis & Chris Lilley, UK's BP Portrait Award, Purchasing power in colonial Sydney and more.

Marilyn Darling AC, 2010 Anne Zahalka
Marilyn Darling AC, 2010 Anne Zahalka
Marilyn Darling AC, 2010 Anne Zahalka

Support Crew

Magazine article by Dr Christopher Chapman

Portraits of philanthropists in the collection honour their contributions to Australia and acknowledge their support of the National Portrait Gallery.

Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low
Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low
Federal Statistican Knibbs, 1919 David Low

The numbers man

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow

Dr. Sarah Engledow tells the story of Australia's first Federal statistician, Sir George Knibbs.

Creator versus character - Chris Lilley, 2009 John Tsiavis
Creator versus character - Chris Lilley, 2009 John Tsiavis
Creator versus character - Chris Lilley, 2009 John Tsiavis

How to be a boy

Magazine article by Dr Christopher Chapman

Christopher Chapman profiles Chris Lilley, actor and creator of Angry Boys.

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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.