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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 Laith McGregor, 11 October 2013

Laith McGregor's fascination with the human form stems from an imaginary childhood friend.

Fairweathered, 2012
Fairweathered, 2012

Portraiture has always been an integral part of my work. As much as I have tried to step away from it as a subject, something inexplicable draws me back in.

It is the idea of this mysterious pull that I am continuously attempting to capture. But how does one grasp something that does not exist? It is this very question that I ask myself on a daily basis. The constant deployment of questions act as a motivation and the pretext of my current practice.

But why am I so fascinated in the human form? As a child I had an imaginary friend. I would often see a figure. Unable to situate his identity I gave him the name Water-Face. I assume I gave him this title because of the lack of identifying features; or perhaps his changing features – his face looked like moving water. Growing up with this memory I have repeatedly considered its meaning. His lack of identity allowed for questions concerning the significance of the guise, the substance of the self and how we present ourselves to the world. He has become the ghost of everyone, in everyone, a figure who stands somewhere between the real and the subconscious.

My practice takes shape from the narratives of film, literature, folktales and family anecdotes. Characters, plot lines and histories from these spaces come to life and cement themselves into my personal language. On the surface my work appears to obtain familiar subjects in the form of portraiture. Even though the current work doesn’t directly reference the character Water-Face, I feel his presence remains significant in setting up foundations for continual exploration into related ideas. Water-Face maintains his anonymity. His indefinable disposition illustrates the transient and insoluble nature of existence.

The work has progressed beyond literal interpretations and into a phantasmal realm. It is this illusory state which affirms the position of the subconscious in my practice. The potential for what is hidden holds the possibility of further implications. I attack each drawing, painting or sculpture in an intuitive manner, allowing the subconscious to direct the outcome of the work and the possibilities of further exploration.

I often reflect on the indication of another reality, which is ungraspable, a reality that holds a subtext for deeper contemplation. Like a reflection, which is not only visible but also invisible, I place importance in the juxtaposition of the real and unreal. Fiction is an underlying basis in my method of relating ideas and applications. By drawing on and highlighting the treatment of fiction, I’m able to convey thoughts on consciousness, the unconscious and the grey area in between. It is the continual slippage between the two that form a coherent narrative.

A tension between a physical and psychological dimension of the human being circulates in my mind, forming my language and my portraiture.

Related information

Portrait 45, Winter 2013

Magazine

This issue features Paul Kelly, Rineke Dijkstra, John Brack, the National Photographic Portrait Prize and more.

Yhonnie and Indiana, 2012
Yhonnie and Indiana, 2012
Yhonnie and Indiana, 2012

Surface tension

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour

Joanna Gilmour on the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2013.

Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack
Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack
Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack

Bonfire of the vanities

Magazine article by Stuart Purves

Australian Galleries Director Stuart Purves tells the story of two portraits by John Brack.

Adrian Rawlins, 1977 David Campbell
Adrian Rawlins, 1977 David Campbell
Adrian Rawlins, 1977 David Campbell

Earth to earth

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow

Dr Sarah Engledow discusses the recent gift of works by David Campbell.

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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.