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Study for a portrait of Alex Wodak
, c. 2005

by Nick Mourtzakis

conte pencil and pastel on paper (frame: 160.0 x 126.0 cm, sight: 119.0 x 88.0 cm)

Alex Wodak, physician and health and social policy campaigner, trained at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, and worked as a medical registrar in several London teaching hospitals before beginning research on alcoholic liver disease. In 1982 he began his long stint as Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst. Henceforth he developed his major interests, prevention of spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injecting drug users, brief interventions for problem drinkers, treatment of drug users in prison and drug policy reform. He helped establish Australia’s first needle syringe program in 1986, and instigated Australia’s first medically- supervised injecting room, seeing both initiatives legalised some years later. President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, and the President of the International Harm Reduction Association from 1996 to 2004, he has been a member of a number of state and national committees including the National Expert Advisory Committee on Alcohol. He has often worked in developing countries to help control HIV infection among injecting drug users, and his recommendations attract increasing international interest. After thirty years at St Vincent’s, he retired in 2012, and is now an Emeritus Consultant. Wodak has published over 200 scientific papers, co-wrote the book Drug Prohibition: a call for change (1996), and is a regular contributor to the current-issues website The Conversation.

Nick Mourtzakis gained a master’s degree from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2005 for work on cubism, which culminated in an exhibition of drawings, The Analytical Portrait. He met Alex Wodak through his brother, neurologist Jack Wodak, and, struck by Alex’s intensity, sketched him at sittings in his studio, developing the drawings in various ways on his own. Mourtzakis held several solo exhibitions in mid-2005, including Slow Burn: The Art of Nick Mourtzakis at the RMIT Gallery. The sixteen portraits in the exhibition included a huge one of Wodak, made largely from memory over a period of some ten months and measuring two metres in height. With what he learned of the ‘topography’ of Wodak’s face in completing the big work, added to the ‘visual data’ he had assimilated throughout his whole acquaintance with him, Mourtzakis made an oil portrait, measuring only 40.5 x 30.5cm, that he considered his ‘final portrait’ of the reformer.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Dr Jack Wodak 2006
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2006.40