Painting Simon Chapman for the Archibald Prize

I’ve known Simon Chapman for many years but I really only got to know him as a close friend several years ago when I played guitar for a while in his covers band, the Original Faux Pas. I enjoyed a few years playing 60s and 70s rock and roll as Simon belted out the tunes.

When I set myself a goal for 2013 of entering the Archibald competition, Simon was the obvious choice for a subject. Not only does he fit the bill for the award criteria – as a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, he is a well known public figure – but he is a fellow of diverse interests, offering plenty of pickings for a portrait artist.

simon_final_lrOn one hand, he is this really clever, dedicated academic who works extremely hard in his day-job, but he has almost an alter ego of a fun-loving guy who loves rock music and is passionate about his beloved koi collection. He also loves fine shoes – and showing them off.

Simon has always struck me as an enthusiast who remains young at heart with an endearing boyish quality (despite having recently celebrated his 61st birthday). I also thought he would be interesting to paint because of his most prominent physical attributes – these amazing brown eyes that look at you very directly, and a pronounced forehead and head.

This was my first attempt at painting a serious portrait, and it was even more difficult than I expected. At first, I was painting him as an older person, probably what he might look like in ten years. It was frustrating because it wasn’t the Simon I knew. I made about half a dozen starts on the painting, working and re-working his face and head until I finally ended up with this composition and image. Initially I had planned to put more detail from his office in the background but in the end, I went for simplicity.

I feel the painting captures some of the humour that I associate with Simon. The pond reflects Simon’s koi-love, as well as being a bit of a joke about him being able to walk on water. The cigarette packet is a nod to his decades of campaigning work to reduce the misery caused by the tobacco industry.

But I also had a bit of fun with it, changing the ghastly plain pack throat cancer images to the iconic mouth of the Rolling Stones, whose music both Simon and I love. Simon has told me that he also sees this part of the painting as a bit of a tongue poke at the tobacco industry. And he is certainly known as someone who relishes a fight with the enemies of public health.

Being a graphic designer by trade, I always set out to make strong images.

The painting mightn’t have taken out the Archibald, but it has been a rewarding exercise, and has sharpened my resolve to incorporate my fine arts skills into my graphic design work when it’s appropriate.


I’m now looking forward to returning to painting some of the subjects that I’m more familiar with – like landscapes and my dear donkey friends.

I wouldn’t mind trying for the Archibald again some day. Any suggestions for subjects?