Entering the Archibald for Late Bloomers.

Phil Mulray with his Archibald painting of MP Tony Abbott.

Phil Mulray with his Archibald painting of MP Tony Abbott.

Student Profile: 

Meet late bloomer Philip Mulray (or ‘Michelangelo’ as he jokingly refers to himself). Phil is about to celebrate his 88th year and has just painted his first painting for this year’s Archibald. Phil always wanted to be an artist and was fortunate to be a student of the great Australian artists Lloyd Rees and Margaret Woodward in his younger years while studying architecture. He went on to have a very successful career as an architect instead.

Phil joined one of my portrait classes last year and asked if I would be willing to help mentor him through the process of creating an Archibald painting. He had been approached by the management team of Wesley Mission Retirement Village to paint something for the Archibald Portrait Prize as an initiative to encourage seniors to keep finding their passion and continue being involved within the community.

There are many considerations that factor into making of an Archibald portrait and Phil learned to transition through the trials and tribulations of pretty much most of them. Painting your first Archibald is more about learning what not to do for next time and can be quiet daunting for the faint hearted.

First you must find a suitable subject and this can be more about network connections and cold calling, a daunting process for shy, arty types. However for Phil this was organised by Wesley Mission management and he was fortunate to get a great subject who kindly agreed to sit for him, our ex Prime Minister The Hon Tony Abbott MP. Finding times that your subject can sit for you and where can also be difficult. If they are extremely busy like Mr Abbott and time is very limited you will be relying on getting quick sketches and photography. As they are often called upon at any time and never sit still you are fully aware of getting as much reliable information as possible to work with. Working out how you are going to portray them and what materials you’ll be using and purchasing everything you need can be very expensive.

Starting with sketches and working up to a bigger canvas. You will be relying on all your professional skills and expertise and years of experience will work in your favour here. Then you hit the hump, the halfway mark where you think everything is going wrong and you want to throw it into a corner and never look at it again. I call this the tantrum phase! Getting past this phase takes some positive self talk, persistence, motivation and treats. Often the pressure alone of having a notable subject will pull you through this phase.  Finishing your painting to a deadline! A very difficult task for artistic types that have no sense of time. Not forgetting the attention to details, varnishing and framing another big expense. Then there’s the worst part, paperwork, filling out forms, getting signatures, and sticking to the rules. Again a stressful task for many artists who don’t like to follow the status quo. Also you’ll be dealing with every well meaning persons input, comments and critiques. Taking it with a grain of salt to remain true to yourself is a skill in itself.

You’ve got the paperwork signed and you’ve pre-entered on line and paid the entry fee. Now you’ve got to get it to the gallery. It’s got to fit in your car and you have to drive into the middle of the city. This takes up a huge chunk of your day and if you can’t do it then you have to organise delivery, another big expense.

Lastly, you’ve done it, finished! You’re so pleased with yourself and everything you’ve achieved. With all the hard work that’s been put into every inch of that canvas you cradle that thing like it’s your newborn all the way to the drop off point. When you excitedly arrive theres a team of people buzzing around, and before you know it they’re grabbing paperwork, snatching your painting and rushing it off to some pile out the back. Then you catch a glimpse of something someone’s painted that looks like a masterpiece and theres that slight sinking feeling. This whole process takes about 2 minutes.

Now you wait! The day comes at the NSW Art Gallery when the Archibald finalists are announced but you didn’t make the cut. Oh well there’s still the Salon des Refuge and then the announcement comes again and you didn’t get selected for that one either. Your heart sinks, you're feeling rejection. You know you shouldn’t feel that way because the odds are so slim and there’s 800+ entries and only about 40 get hung and it’s subjective anyway. This is when you get to take just one day only to be a glum bum and just mope, feeling sorry for yourself and taking comfort in food and the thought that approximately 800 people are going through the same motions as you!

So why do we bother to do it at all then?

Undertaking this process in the prime of your life is difficult enough but to take on a challenge like this at 88 with the limited physicality’s of trembling hands and failing vision that ageing brings us is to be applauded! Phil achieved this all by himself, every single brush stoke made by him. He just needed to be reminded every now and then that he could do it. Phil said that he never thought it possible but this has been one of the most rewarding challenges he has ever achieved. He proves to us all that we are never too old to find a new lease on life and learn something new that we've always wanted to.

Ps: I can tell you that although Phil didn't get selected as one of the finalists he does have someone wanting to purchase his creation and that’s the biggest buzz prize of all.

You’re a winner in our eyes Phil, Well done!