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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Spelunking

The artist-sitter relationship

The Amazing Face, lesson 1

Today we will LOOK at the portrait of Nick Cave by Howard Arkley; THINK about the artist-sitter relationship; WATCH a video interview with artist Marc de Jong; READ about portrait commissions; DO a couple of activities and finish with a quiz.

The relationship between artist and sitter is at the heart of portraiture. One of the National Portrait Gallery’s first commissions, Howard Arkley’s painting of Nick Cave exemplifies the way in which a daring or unexpected pairing of artist and sitter can yield potent results. Arkley was known for his distinct, vivid depictions of otherwise prosaic suburban homes and interiors. His portrait of Cave was one of the last pieces of work the artist completed before his death, at the peak of his career. Today we explore how Arkley employed the neon colours and contours of his instantly recognisable style in the creation of a similarly unique vision of musician Nick Cave. (Spelunking is exploring caves.)

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Watch

Howard Arkley taught artist Marc de Jong at Prahran TAFE in Melbourne. In describing the portrait of Nick Cave, de Jong says, ‘there’s a lot of attitude in that painting and that attitude comes from both the sitter and the painter.’

Interview with Marc de Jong
Video: 2 minutes

Read

The National Portrait Gallery is a unique type of public gallery. One of its distinguishing features is the way the Gallery builds the collection through a process of commissioning portraits. Generally, public galleries see it as their role to reflect the art of the times, not to shape it. Yet there are good reasons why a portrait gallery involves itself in the commissioning of new work.

Read the Portrait article On Commission by Andrew Sayers.

Solo activity

Line and shape is a feature of Howard Arkley’s portrait of Nick Cave. This activity is called blind contour drawing and will focus on those elements.

You will need: paper and pencil

  1. View this portrait of Nick Cave by Howard Arkley and enlarge it so that it fills your screen and you can look at it without distractions.
  2. Notice the lines in the portrait. Let your eyes follow the curving lines. Notice how the lines create shapes, defining forms and shadows. 
  3. Without looking down at your piece of paper, draw the portrait. Use one continuous line, and keep your eyes on your screen until you finish. 
  4. Look down to see your ‘blind contour drawing’ of Nick Cave! 

Connected activity

Share your new skills with a friend.

You will need paper, a pen or pencil, and coloured pens, textas or paints.

  1. Call a friend via video chat and explain blind contour drawing to them.
  2. While you have each other’s faces on the screen, each do a blind contour drawing of the other – give yourselves an agreed time limit.
  3. Inspired by Arkley, each take 10 minutes to colour in the shapes that you have drawn and then share your portraits with each other. Have a go at drawing one another using this technique.
  4. Share the fun! Remember to tag us @PortraitAu and use the hashtags #TheAmazingFace #PortraitureComesHome

Quiz

Where was Nick Cave born?

Name Nick Cave’s first band.

According to Andrew Sayers AM, what was the NPG seeking to find between artist and subject?

Next lesson

2. Penny drop: Keys to unlocking portraiture

Related information

On commission

Magazine article by Andrew Sayers AM, 2002

Former NPG Director Andrew Sayers discusses the art of commissioning portraits.

Nick Cave by Howard Arkley

Portrait story

An interview with graffiti artist Marc de Jong about the art of Howard Arkley.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency