This work was a Semi Finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize 2019
In 1979, after the release of My Brilliant Career, Gillian Armstrong was the first woman in 39 years to direct an Australian feature film. Since then, her career has consistently been analysed through a gender lens – partly due to being a ‘female’ director (a prefix not bestowed upon male directors) and partly due to her multiple female protagonists. These protagonists are commonly labelled as ‘strong female leads’, a description Gillian widely rejects, insisting her focus remains on representing complex characters. ‘Strong’ may be a descriptor intended to give power and affirmation to these characters, but it also seems to suggest that women must be rebellious in nature if they dare show any independence of thought, downplaying a complex, intersectional and human existence.
In painting Gillian, I wanted to represent the complexity of self beyond gender but at the same time be sympathetic to it. As she sat in front of me, I felt her focused power, her wit, her wisdom, her warmth, her intellect and determination, her sensitivity and her kindness.
I hope in the varying textures, in the light and shade of the paint application and in the fine detail, you feel her aura and see a glimmer of her many diverse and extraordinary attributes. A true leader.
June 8, 2021