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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.

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
© Bruce Armstrong

Accession number: 2001.18

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Bruce Armstrong (age 43 in 2000)

Peter Carey AO (age 57 in 2000)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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Painting writing

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2007

Dr Sarah Engledow explores the portraits of writers held in the National Portrait Gallery's collection.

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Open Air

Portraits in the Landscape

Previous exhibition, 2008

Open Air is an exhibition of portraits of Australians in environments of particular significance to them.

Elle Macpherson, 2000 Polly Borland
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Australian Visit

Previous exhibition, 2006

The exhibition will include works of art from the NPG Canberra's permanent collection with some inward loans and aims to highlight the achievements of notable Australians.

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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.