Bringing local faces to life

Artist Judith Shannon with S Sorrensen and her portrait Will the Real S Please Stand Up! which is a finalist in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize.
Artist Judith Shannon with S Sorrensen and her portrait Will the Real S Please Stand Up! which is a finalist in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize.

AS IF S Sorrensen's head wasn't big enough already, now someone's gone and painted it five-foot high.

"If a picture's worth a thousand words, I'm out of business," S joked after seeing the finished work. "I think it's an absolutely beautiful piece of work - words fail me, for once."

The portrait of The Echo's long-time columnist and writer, by artist Judith Shannon, is one of 55 finalists in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize, which opens this Saturday at the Lismore Regional Gallery with the announcement of the $10,000 acquisitive first prize.

Judith said she had read S's back page musings for many years and knew that he had worn many hats in his life, with forays into poetry, music, comedy and teaching.

Judith won last year's People's Choice Award with a portrait of her 92-year-old mother, and she wanted to choose a more public identity and capture something of the man off the page, exploring the difference between his public and private faces.

"I wasn't an early devotee of S, but in recent years I came to really appreciate his words and could feel they were coming from the heart. He was a clear-cut choice for me - a compelling subject," Judith said. "When I did some casual research I found quite a few people who principally get The Echo to read S's column.

"I really wanted to honour the scope and breadth of his many personas, and to celebrate him as a loved public figure - although I also found he's not loved by everyone!" Judith laughed. "A friend of mine, who doesn't like S, saw the final work and she loved it so much she offered to buy it. That makes me feel like I've achieved what I set out to do."

Judith went to painstaking lengths to create the depth of character she wanted, and the painting has layer upon layer of embellishments that include script from S's personal diaries done in mirror image, photos, writing and Judith's own impressions of S she gathered during their sittings and from his friends.

She said she wanted to give the painting a Da Vinci-esque feel, with a parchment-looking background and scrawled writing, and even went so far as to include a Vitruvian Man, possibly the most famous of Da Vinci's images. In homage to her subject however, she clothed it in his most cherished attire - a sarong, as any of his regular readers would know.

Despite her personal admiration and fondness for her subject - "He proved warm and accessible as a person," she says - Judith felt it important to show his flaws alongside his attributes, and if one looks closely the phrase "bloody annoying" and the word "arrogant" are amongst the many descriptors.

"Judith also said she should have made me look older," S said. "And she said it's an idealised version of my face. Up until that point, I really liked her."

Art prize

The 2012 Northern Rivers Portrait Prize will be opened by Lismore MP Thomas George this Saturday, March 24, at 3pm with 2008 Archibald Prize winner and this year's judge Del Kathryn Barton announcing the $10,000 first prize, sponsored by Walters Solicitors, Hurford Hardwood and The Northern Rivers Echo. There is also a $1500 award for an artist under 30, sponsored by Armsign. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the opening and vote in the $500 People's Choice Award. The exhibition will be on show until May 6.

There will also be a Salon des Refusés exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in Lismore where other portraits that did not make the final 55 will be on display. The Salon des Refusés opens at 6pm this Friday, March 23, and continues until April 23.

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