Phil’s story: Age is no limit to passion
At 87 years of age, Wesley Taylor Village resident, Phil Mulray, ticked a major goal off his bucket list when he entered the 2016 Archibald Prize for art with his painting of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
See how the portrait turned out in part 2 below.
Phil sits tall in the sunny corner room that Wesley Taylor Village staff have converted into his personal art studio; surrounded by old peach tins filled with paint brushes, bottles of linseed oil, scuffed boxes of well-twisted tubes of oil paints. Phil is full of laughter, full of smiles, and full of stories from a life spent pursuing his passions and never saying no to a challenge.
For the past two years, Olivier Valente, Centre Manager of Wesley Taylor Narrabeen has been running an art exhibition with local schools and aged care facilities. In 2015, Phil produced a beautiful artwork for the exhibition and Olivier was discussing it with another staff member when inspiration struck.
“We thought, why don’t we try to get him to do something special, something spectacular, something out of his scope and see where it takes him,” Olivier said. ""The idea came that we could invite him to produce an artwork to enter the Archibald Prize.”
With tongue firmly in cheek, Phil recalls, “So they baled me up in my unit with my wife one day and they said, ‘You’ve got to do a portrait’. At first, Phil was a little daunted by the idea but discussing the details with Richard and Olivier, he began to see just how possible it was.
“We discussed who we might approach and we thought, a local VIP on the North Shore.
“And Tony Abbott said yes.”
Phil had always been a keen painter, but landscapes were his focus. So with Olivier and Richard’s help, Phil tracked down a portrait artist in Narrabeen and began attending weekend classes. Before he knew it, it was time for the first sitting at Tony Abbott’s home, in mid-January, in sweltering heat.
“Sadly my charcoal drawing, under the stress and the heat and the age and despite my earlier efforts, made him look like a Neanderthal man!
“And I think he was somewhat taken aback. I was worse than that. I was aghast, and knew we had a long way to go.”
Phil’s final portrait of Mr Abbott was a result of eight month’s work and several sittings with the former PM: a few at Mr Abbott’s home and one in the make-shift studio at Wesley Taylor Village. Phil said his renewed passion for painting has given him a fresh outlook on life.
“It’s another dimension on life,” he said. “It was exciting, exhausting and stressful. My wife thought it was a great stimulus to see me motivated and activated.”
The final product was unveiled in Mr Abbott’s electorate office before it was transported to the Art Gallery of NSW for judging.
“The climax was to see Tony Abbott’s response,” Phil said. “He looked at the painting for a minute to a minute and a half. He turned to me and said: ‘Phil you have done very well’. It was a genuine personal, sincere comment. I was thrilled. It was a great moment and a great feeling.”