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Dorothy Porter
, 2001-02

by Rick Amor

oil on canvas (frame: 39.5 cm x 34.5 cm, support: 35.5 cm x 30.5 cm)

Dorothy Porter (1954–2008), poet and writer, grew up in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1975 and taught creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her first book of poetry, Little Hoodlum, was published in 1975; subsequent volumes included Bison (1979), The Night Parrot (1984) and Driving too Fast (1989). In the early 1990s she wrote two novels for young adults. Akhenaten, the first of the narratives in verse for which Porter was particularly renowned, was published in 1992. The following year, she moved to Melbourne to live with the novelist Andrea Goldsmith, who was her partner for the rest of her life. Unusually, Porter managed to make a living from poetry. The Monkey’s Mask (1994) staked out the demotic verse novel as a territory all Porter’s own. It was named the Age Book of the Year for Poetry, won the National Book Council Award for Poetry and was the Braille Book of the Year; widely translated and published overseas, it was adapted for stage and radio and made into a film starring Kelly McGillis and Susie Porter. Subsequent verse novels, What a Piece of Work (1999) and Wild Surmise (2002) were both shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award (in 2003 both Porter and Goldsmith were shortlisted – each for a book that she had dedicated to the other). Porter’s last verse novel was El Dorado (2007). Having written two libretti, and lyrics for music by Paul Grabowsky, at the time of her death from complications arising from breast cancer she was collaborating with Tim Finn on a rock opera. The Bee Hut was published posthumously in 2009, as was her essay On Passion; finally, Goldsmith selected a volume of her Love Poems (2010).

Rick Amor (b. 1948), unacquainted with Porter, first saw her on television. Intrigued that she didn’t smile, he made a drawing of her as he sat and watched her talk; his interest in her increased when he read The Monkey’s Mask. Soon after, at a book- signing, he asked if she would like to sit to him. His austere painting, showing Porter uncharacteristically quiet and still, is a tiny one that forces the viewer to come in close to the sitter’s forbidding face. The women agreed that the portraitist had made Dorothy look older than she was. It was some time before the painting came to seem, to Andrea Goldsmith, to show her partner as she might have looked, had she not died.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Andrea Goldsmith 2011
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2011.2