Press

BOX OFFICE 1 OF 2

The Archibald Prize controversy is behind him and Craig Ruddy is ready to move on.

The Archibald Prize controversy is behind him and Craig Ruddy is ready to move on.

For someone grappling with deep philosophical questions about human perception, the nature of memory and the failure of modern civilisation, Craig Ruddy seems remarkably sunny – jovial, almost. “They say you usually have to paint solidly for 10 years to get any recognition,” says the controversial winner of the 2004 Archibald Prize. “I’ve only been a professional artist for five years.”

Even a lengthy legal challenge over his Archibald portrait of actor David Gulpilil failed to dampen his natural energy and curiosity. “I’ve been in good spirits,” he says, serving green tea in his paint-splattered Tamarama apartment. “I did feel held back while the court case was going on but now I’m free.”

Ruddy’s depiction of Gulpilil has finally been vindicated. In June, the NSW Supreme Court dismissed a claim by art teacher Tony Johansen that David Gulpilil – Two Worlds is a drawing, not a painting, and therefore ineligible to enter the Archibald Prize. “I obviously feel incredibly relieved,” says Ruddy. “I have no idea why he took this action but I don’t bear him any ill will.”

One tangible benefit of the victory is that Ruddy, 37, has been able to complete work on a new exhibition of what he calls “urban landscapes” – paintings that deal with the relationship between man, the city environment and garbage bins. The idea came to him a couple of years ago. “I was in Rose Bay one day and they’d just collected the rubbish,” he says. “There were bins everywhere. It was surreal – like ancient ruins from a past civilisation.”

Over the past eight months, Ruddy has created Remnants, a series of canvases that explore the themes of alienation, mental incarceration and the need to let go of the past. “I’ve used the garbage bins as a metaphor for people’s memories,” he explains. “They contain things we hold onto but we should discard.”

Unlike conventional studies of nature, Ruddy’s landscapes are concealed below layers of varnish, fragments of line drawings and thick vertical lines of paint that look like prison bars. Creating these multi-layered canvasses has been a deliberate gamble for an artist who has become well known for his delicate human studies in pen and ink. But Ruddy, who started life as a graphic designer, has always enjoyed experimenting with different media.

He concedes the new series is a departure from his previous work but feels that at this stage of his career it is important to defy expectations. “It is a risk, yeah,” he says. “But I feel my work’s progressed. You evolve and grow as time goes by and hope the work will do the same. That’s what being an artist is all about – being emotionally connected with the work.”

According to the artist, the finished canvases reflect modern man’s alienation from nature and his search for a connection to the land. “When you look at our culture, we are so removed from the land,” he says. “Indigenous cultures are deeply ingrained within the environment but our civilisation tries to close us off from the elements. We’ve lost that deep-rooted spiritual grounding that holds societies together.”

The long-running saga over the Archibald Prize will finally be laid to rest on August 28 when David Gulpilil – Two Worlds is auctioned by Sotheby’s. Ruddy will donate 20 per cent of the sale price, expected to be about $200,000, to an indigenous heath service.

Remnants, by Craig Ruddy, is at Richard Martin Art Gallery, 98 Holdsworth Street, Woollahra from August 5-23. Phone: 9327 6525.

Publication: Sydney Morning Herald Section: The Sydney Magazine Page: 88For someone grappling with deep philosophical questions about human perception, the nature of memory and the failure of modern civilisation, Craig Ruddy seems remarkably sunny – jovial, almost. “They say you usually have to paint solidly for 10 years to get any recognition,” says the controversial winner of the 2004 Archibald Prize. “I’ve only been a professional artist for five years.”

BACK TO PRESS OVERVIEW