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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.

Angel Street (Adam Cullen), 2010

Darren McDonald

oil on linen (support: 137.5 cm x 122.0 cm)
Image not available (NC)

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
Purchased 2012

Accession number: 2012.208

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Darren McDonald (age 44 in 2010)

Adam Cullen (age 45 in 2010)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

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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.

Self Portrait with Stetson, 2011 by Darren McDonald
Self Portrait with Stetson, 2011 by Darren McDonald
Self Portrait with Stetson, 2011 by Darren McDonald
Self Portrait with Stetson, 2011 by Darren McDonald

Painting them gently

Magazine article by Penny Grist, 2015

Penny Grist on motivation, method and melancholy in the portraiture of Darren McDonald.

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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.