Archibald entry spotlights issue of homelessness
When most people think of Archibald Prize entries, they expect to see portraits of high-profile public figures, such as former politicians or television celebrities. This year, commercial artist and former Wallabies player, John Williams decided to paint someone unusual for the exhibition—an individual who often goes unnoticed but is well-known to many Sydneysiders.
If you’ve ever walked down Pitt Street, Sydney, there’s a good chance you are familiar with John’s subject. For many years, every morning, Chris claims a spot on Pitt Street, near Victoria Galleries, and chats with those who stop by to pat his pet rat. He always offers a friendly smile, a warm hand-shake and eagerly invites everyone to take a photo of his rat.
John first came into contact with Chris through his daughter, Vanessa’s involvement with Wesley Connect, Wesley Mission’s food and care program for those who are facing tough circumstances. A chaplain for MLC School for girls, Rev Vanessa Williams-Henke interned for a number of years with Wesley Mission. It was during this time that she came into contact with Chris.
Chris, who is also a regular visitor at Wesley Connect, says he has always been grateful for the relationships, food, clothing and coffee he has received from the service.
“Everyone is really friendly there,” he said.
When it came time for John to pick his Archibald subject he knew he wanted to paint someone out-of-the-box and create awareness about the issue of homelessness, while supporting organisations like Wesley Mission that help people facing disadvantaged circumstances.
“I thought with Chris, this would be a change of direction for the better. Most of the people they paint… they don’t have a problem with their lives virtually,” said John.
“I feel I was doing something there that could create a bit of awareness towards this issue of homelessness."
The painting, which features Chris with his pet rat, Kimberly, also includes a subtle hint towards Wesley Mission, through the inclusion of a small, white dove, a symbol that is represented in Wesley Mission’s logo.
“This deserves to be brought forward and I really appreciate the fact that Wesley Mission is helping him [Chris],” said John.
A hand-brushed oil painting, John began his Archibald entry with a few sketches of Chris. Sitting in his usual spot on Pitt Street, John took his initial sketches in Chris’ daily environment before he completed the project back in an art studio.
“I like to meet the subject and know more about them so that was a good way, sitting down with him and having a bit of a talk and sketching him in the street. That gives you a better feel for the situation,” explained John.
Chris added: “He did a rough sketch here and when I saw it I thought, ‘Wow, what a gorgeous painting’.”
While John’s artwork unfortunately did not make the finalists for this year’s Archibald Prize, he is determined to keep entering, having submitted an artwork each year for the last 20 years. John also submitted his painting of Chris to a couple of other exhibitions, including the Salon des Refusés, an exhibition that runs at Observatory Hill in The Rocks, shortly after the Archibald exhibition.
To view this year’s Archibald Prize winner, visit the NSW Art Gallery in Sydney from 29 July to 22 October.