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Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark
, 2000

by Peter Wegner

oil on canvas

Graeme M. Clark AO (b. 1935) is Laureate Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne and the Director of the Bionic Ear Institute. Clark made it possible for thousands of profoundly deaf people to hear when he launched the cochlear implant in 1978. The possibility of using an electrical device to stimulate the nerves inside the inner ear to produce hearing had been pursued sporadically by researchers since the 18th century. Clark has said that he discovered how to insert an electrode into the inner ear while studying shells on the beach; it took him and his team just 12 years to develop the first device that could do this successfully. Nicknamed the 'Bionic Ear', it remains the world leader in its field. Research and refinement of the cochlear implant continue, and Clark has also developed other hearing devices such as an electrotactile hearing aid. He and his team are also studying other ways of overcoming deafness, such as 'fine-tuning' deaf children's brains for sound. It has been suggested that this research could result in one of the major medical advances of our time.

Peter Wegner (b. 1953), a Victorian- based artist, painted this portrait for the Archibald in 2000. ‘While we were talking Graeme opened out his hands as if to greet you and talk to you,’ Wegner said in his artist’s statement. ‘I was worried that this pose would be difficult to hold but Graeme remarked that it was a position he was comfortable with because he has to hold his arms out while operating, sometimes for several hours. And here lay the duality of the pose: the father of the Bionic Ear with hands outstretched about to speak, while holding the prototype of the Bionic Ear – a vehicle for people to hear.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the family of Professor Graeme Clark 2001
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2001.40