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Peter Carey in Kelly country, 2000

Bruce Armstrong

synthetic polymer paint on board (frame: 172.1 cm x 126.2 cm, support: 167.0 x 121.3)

Peter Carey (b.1943), author, worked in advertising in the 1970s, accelerating the success of the Australian wine industry with the slogan ‘You make us smile, Dr Lindeman’. His first novel, Bliss (1985), was made into a feature film, now regarded as a turning point in Australian cinema. He was nominated for the Booker Prize for his second novel, Illywhacker (1985), but first bagged it with Oscar and Lucinda (1988), an idiosyncratic romance also made into an Australian film. With True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), Carey became only the second writer (after JM Coetzee) to scoop the Booker Prize twice. Amongst his many other prizes are three Miles Franklin Awards and four Age Book of the Year Awards. For some time Carey has lived in New York, where he has taught creative writing at Princeton and Columbia Universities. His latest novel is A Long Way Home (2018).

Bruce Armstrong, best known as a sculptor of gigantic birds (including Belconnen’s Owl 2011), visited New York in 2000. There he sought a meeting with Peter Carey, whose work he had long admired. This painting was completed after only one encounter between artist and subject. Carey arrived rather flustered, and it took a while for the two men to establish common ground. Armstrong likes to develop an image over time, through layering and cutting back, and both he and his sitter were disconcerted by the sketches he was able to produce under pressure on the day. After viewing a catalogue of Armstrong’s work, Carey agreed to be photographed, and Armstrong returned with sketches and photos to continue with the portrait on a property near Kyneton, Victoria, where he and his wife were living. It was here, on the fringe of ‘Kelly Country’, that the background to the figure of Carey evolved.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2001

Accession number: 2001.18

Currently on display: Gallery Six (Tim Fairfax Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Bruce Armstrong (age 43 in 2000)

Peter Carey AO (age 57 in 2000)

Subject professions


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