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Andrew Sayers
, 2012

by Mark Mohell

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 60.6 cm x 50.8 cm, image: 53.0 cm x 36.8 cm)

Andrew Sayers AM (1957-2015) was inaugural Director of the National Portrait Gallery. Born in England, Sayers came to Australia with his parents at the age of six and grew up in Mount Kuring-gai. A keen artist and observer of nature from boyhood, he formed a precocious determination to become an art historian and graduated in Art History from the University of Sydney in 1979. Having been Registrar of Collections at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in 1981 he became Assistant Director at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery. In 1985 he moved to Canberra, where he became Assistant Director (Collections) at the National Gallery of Australia. In 1989 he published Drawing in Australia, and in 1994 Aboriginal Artists of the 19th Century, a work for which he received the HE Stanner Award of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Appointed Director of the new National Portrait Gallery in April 1998, Sayers signalled his exciting vision for the institution with The Possibilities of Portraiture, comprising a mixture of historical and contemporary works in various media. In his first year at the Gallery – while writing, in his spare time, Australian Art for the Oxford History of Art series – he established policy, made press appearances, commissioned artworks, wrote acquisition proposals for individual works and researched, wrote and edited text for display in the Gallery. Over eleven years, during which the staff of the Gallery increased fivefold, he conceived or worked in partnership to create the exhibitions Arthur Boyd Portraits (1999-2000); Heads of the People (2000); Nolan Heads (2001); Intimate Portraits (2002); Contemporary Australian Portraits (2002-2003); POL: Portrait of a generation (2003); To Look Within: Self-portraits in Australia (2004); The World of Thea Proctor (2005); Clifton Pugh Australians (2005-2006) and Open Air: Portraits in the landscape (2008). Meanwhile, he pressed for a dedicated building for the National Portrait Gallery. In early 2010 Sayers accepted the position of Director of the National Museum of Australia, where he oversaw major building works and staff restructuring and vitalised the display. Between 2005 and 2014 he ran 15 marathons, but in his all-too-brief retirement, he concentrated on painting full-time; his commanding self-portrait was a finalist in the Moran Prize of 2014 and his portrait of Tim Bonyhady was a finalist in the Archibald of 2015.

Mark Mohell photographed Andrew Sayers as he visited Mohell’s exhibition, view from here, in the winter of 2012.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2013
Accession number: 2013.9