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Angel Street (Adam Cullen)
, 2010

by Darren McDonald

oil on linen (support: 137.5 cm x 122.0 cm)

Adam Cullen (1965–2012), painter, studied art in Sydney from 1986 to 1999, when he obtained his master’s degree in fine arts from the University of New South Wales. He held his first solo exhibition in 1993, and exhibited annually from then until his death at home in Angel Street, Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. Commonly working in house paints, he specialised in repulsively and brutally amusing depictions of bestial men, flabby, bleeding women and dismembered animals, managing simultaneously to appear to sneer at, and identify unflinchingly with, the condition of existence. Thirteen times an Archibald finalist between 1997 and 2012, he won the Prize for his Portrait of David Wenham, painted in ‘three or four hours’ in 2000. In 2002 he represented Australia at the Sao Paulo Biennale, conjured up the book Hooky the Cripple with Mark ‘Chopper’ Read and was highly commended in the Doug Moran Prize. He was several times represented in the Blake Prize for religious or spiritual art, although he also made headlines for driving under the influence of alcohol with firearms in the boot of his car. By the time he died, of an accretion of mental and physical ills, his works were held by the National Gallery and the State galleries of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. The National Portrait Gallery has his paintings of stage and opera director Neil Armfield, and philanthropists Simon and Catriona Mordant with their son Angus.

Darren McDonald (b. 1966) gained his painting degree from RMIT in 2000. He was awarded the RMIT’s John Storey Junior Memorial Scholarship for 2000 and in 2005 he received the Peter Fay Fellowship. Like Adam Cullen, McDonald has often painted animals – bears, dogs, birds and pandas – but his own style emphasises the vulnerability of the ‘sitter’. McDonald met Cullen through art collector Peter Fay and asked if he could paint his portrait but found it impossible to organise due to Adam’s health and state of mind. ‘He said he was willing for me to go ahead anyway. I went into the studio with the person I had met on only a few occasions, socially and privately. I always thought of Adam as reserved, shy and, when sober, a gentleman. In the studio I had a photo of the artist Jackson Pollock that I was keeping for reference but it somehow became the base for the portrait of Adam. Somehow it worked. I imagine they might have had a few things in common.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2012
Accession number: 2012.208