Artist goes to Waters in 48-hour charge for Archibald
By Peter Gotting
The paint is wet. "Sopping wet," artist Michael Camilleri says. He only finished the portrait of John Waters 20 minutes ago. "We will do the best that we can," the Art Gallery packer says as he accepts entrant number 542 in this year's Archibald Prize. The packers will be careful not to smudge it, he assures Camilleri. It is 3.20pm on Friday - 40 minutes before the deadline for entries to the annual Art Gallery of NSW portrait prize.
Camilleri, 28, an emerging Sydney painter, began his portrait of actor-musician Waters 48 hours before deadline. And when they parted company, an hour before that deadline, Waters was happy with what Camilleri produced in just 10 hours. "It's remarkable," Waters says. "I am not the most objective person to look at me really, and yet it gives me a slight shiver to look at that because it sort of resonates inside me. It's like looking at a body part or something - it's definitely part of me."
More than 560 entries were submitted, with the winner to be announced on Friday and an exhibition of around 30 finalists on show from next Saturday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Waters and Camilleri met for the first time. At Waters's Leichhardt house they talked for an hour, about John and his background, before Camilleri began sketching his face. The sketches, Camilleri says, were terrible. On Wednesday night, after just two hours face to face with Waters, he saw his tribute to John Lennon, Looking Through a Glass Onion, at the Theatre Royal. The next morning he begins painting
from a few photographs. With just 24 hours to go, he meets Waters for the second time, a two-hour session in which he "kicked ass", breaking the back of the task ahead of him.
On Thursday night he does not paint, catching a good night's rest before arriving at Waters' house at 8.30am yesterday - the deadline just 7 hours away.
But by 2pm, after about six straight hours with Waters sitting for the portrait, Camilleri, a recent graduate of the College of Fine Arts and Victorian College of the Arts, is smiling. Holding five brushes in his hand and one in his mouth, he's happy.
"There's still major problems with it that I have to try and solve," he says. "It's going to be down-to-the-hour painting. But after two hours of painting this morning I felt good. It had begun to appear."
At 2.30, he puts down his brush. "Finished?" Waters asks. "I think so," was the reply.
Asked why he had decided to begin a portrait two days before the deadline, Camilleri says "for a blast, really", adding, tongue in cheek: "And because I was told you guys [the Herald] were trying to find people finishing paintings - madly rushing at the end".
It was a risk: "I could make myself an Archibald clown - it could be a joke - but I thought why not.''
Story Picture: Rush job ... Michael Camilleri stares at the work in progress on Thursday, and below, Michael embraces John Waters one hour before deadline as he declares the portrait finished. Photos: Nick Moir.