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David Campese by Paul Newton

An interview with Paul Newton, the creator of the portrait of rugby legend David Campese.

Interview with Paul Newton
Video: 2 minutes

The National Portrait Gallery would like to thank Paul Newton for his kind assistance with this project. All images courtesy of the artist.

Paul Newton: I initially had him posing with his arms folded, but when I got into the early stages of that painting I thought, “Well, maybe having the arms folded distances him from the viewer.” So I went a little bit cold on that composition, and I put the painting aside. I got another canvas, started again fresh, had him just put his hands in his pockets like this, which was a pose again that he adopted very naturally, and without having to be … and have it suggested to him. So I thought, “Well, that’s a good pose to work with.”

But during the latter stages of that painting, he was … David was in my studio when I was putting finishing touches on the painting, and this is when we were at Kenthurst and I had a rather large studio. And this painting was up in the back corner that I deliberately kept in the darkened corner, hoping that he wouldn’t notice it, nor the others who were there at the time. And he was having a … he was sniffing about, and he did notice it, and he said, “What’s happening with this, Paul? You haven’t finished this.” And I thought, “Oh, well, the game’s up.” And it’s interesting, because I really think that of the two variations it’s probably the more accurate, the more revealing of the two portraits, and says more about David Campese as a person. So I’m glad he suggested I finish it.

I see portraiture in a broader, more small “c” catholic sense, and I think it can encompass a whole range of possibilities. And really, the bottom line is some representation of a person where you’re hoping … attempting to reveal something about that person. It would be audacious to think that you could really capture or get to know them intimately. You can a little, but invariably they’re going to be putting on their … you know, a front as we all do when we’re in those sorts of situations. Which in a sense is why it’s often that a self portrait or a portrait of someone who’s very close to you may end up being the most revealing and authentic of portraits.

I think every portrait to some extent is … I don’t know who said this... was it Picasso or someone who said that every portrait is really a self-portrait? And I know when I’m doing my own painting, what I’m looking for is some resonance, some sense of the person looking back at me off the canvas.