We were saddened to hear yesterday that multi-award-winning artist Craig Ruddy had died. Irreplicable, his shining light will live on through his work.
To his loved ones and friends, This Magnificent Life extends our deepest condolences.
Here we re-publish our 2020 story on Craig’s stunning depiction of Bruce Pascoe.
It’s that time of year again when all of Australia seems to suddenly pay attention to art and artists. The Archibald Prize finalists have been announced. This year’s stellar lineup of portraits is diverse and intriguing. Craig Ruddy, who won in 2004 with his extraordinary take on David Gulpilil – ‘Two Worlds’ is a finalist once again with ‘Dark Emu’ – a vibrant portrait of author/historian/farmer Bruce Pascoe.
The Archibald is awarded each year to the best portrait of a person, ‘distinguished in art, letters, science or politics’ painted by an Australian resident. The prize garners national attention as a “who’s who” of Australian culture. The People’s Choice and Packing Room awards also often highlight Australia’s present mood with an ‘of the moment’ subject.
Craig Ruddy’s portrait addresses issues of both personal and national identity, Indigenous sovereignty, and the climate crisis. He was inspired to paint Bruce a Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian man, after reading Dark Emu. They met soon after devastating bushfires swept through East Gippsland, taking the life of Pascoe’s close neighbour and good friend, Fred Becker.
Craig said, “It’s my absolute honour to celebrate Bruce Pascoe and his work. He’s a beautiful, gentle man who’s courageously faced this country’s troubled past, in attempts to welcome a positive future of acceptance and solidarity. For someone who had suffered such loss, Bruce’s openness and vulnerability were humbling, but it was his gentility and resilience in seeking truth and reconciliation that I wanted to represent.”
When published the author’s theories that Indigenous people were not simply ‘hunter/gatherers’ proved controversial in some circles. The best-seller was pilloried by certain academics and the most vocal shock jocks. Although the ‘Terra Nullius’ fiction had finally been dismissed by the historic Mabo judgement in 1992, Bruce Pascoe believes the myth did much to displace his people from country and an understanding of their culture. Although the author expected some attempts to discredit his theories he never anticipated his own heritage would be questioned.
The artist’s electric colour palette offers optimism; while the wild lines symbolise the ‘yarns’ that have been spun over generations and the many different threads of knowledge that become caught up and entangled. They also symbolise diversity and the infinite possibilities for a unified Australia. “… while charcoal derived from the spirit of fire signifies traditional wisdom and our potential to rise like embers together with new zest”.
The painting also implores us to “embrace our First People’s wisdom and develop our ability to see the whole picture, not just what we’ve been accustomed to see. The events late last year and this year show us that we are all one”, says Ruddy.
Craig believes he has come full circle with this work after winning the Archibald and People’s Choice prizes in 2004. “… when I painted Two Worlds, I felt a lot of frustration for how First Australians were treated. In Dark Emu, the painful realities are still there, but so are all kinds of colour. There’s room for it all.”
Along with the Sulman and Wynne prizes the $100,000 Archibald Prize will be announced on September 25.
The newest Craig Ruddy collection, completed alongside his portrait of Pascoe, is available to browse and purchase via his website or follow him on socials to learn more.