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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.

Strike a chord

Expression and mood

The Amazing Face, lesson 9

Today we will LOOK at the portrait of Dr G Yunupingu by Guy Maestri; THINK about mood and expression in portraiture; READ an article by Ashleigh Wadman; DO a couple of activities and finish with a quiz.

Reducing something to a few core elements can have a very powerful impact. This portrait of Dr G Yunupingu*, a Yolngu man from the Gumatj clan, is painted using just one colour, applied with a consistent brushmark. A monumental musical talent, when Dr G Yunupingu sang in Gumatj he was carrying out his duty of care for his people and the land. After seeing Dr G Yunupingu perform, Maestri arranged a hasty sitting with the musician. He worked on the painting for a month, listening to Dr G Yunupingu’s music as he built layer upon layer. Facial expression in combination with the limited palette contributes to a very evocative portrait – contemplative and strong – perhaps reflecting the impact of the musician’s voice on his audience. Today we will consider mood through technique in looking closely at this portrait.

*We no longer say his full name, because this is the Yolngu way.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
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Read

Maestri found Dr G Yunupingu’s performance unforgettable and recalled that, ‘word had been going around all day and the rumours were true – people really were moved to tears’.

Read the Portrait article Yolngu Boy by Ashleigh Wadman.

Solo Activity

Shadows and highlights create mood in this portrait. This is a gentle activity. Immerse yourself in listening, looking and drawing.

You will need: paper; pencil; music

  1. Go to these recordings of Dr G Yunupingu on YouTube and select a song.
  2. Listening to Dr G Yunupingu’s dulcet tones, look closely at Guy Maestri’s portrait of the singer. Close your eyes and, with the music still playing, imagine painting this large, evocative monotone portrait.
  3. If you have black paper and a white pencil, draw the portrait focusing on the highlights.
  4. If you are using white paper and a graphite pencil, draw the portrait focusing on the shadows.

Connected activity

Do you think you can draw something based purely on someone’s description? It’s not as easy as you might imagine!

You will need: paper; pencil

  1. Call a friend, and, should they accept the challenge, they will also need paper and a pencil.
  2. If you are on a video call, ask your friend to angle their camera so that you can see their paper too. If you are on a voice call this step doesn’t matter.
  3. While your friend is gathering their materials, select a portrait from the National Portrait Gallery website. Don’t reveal which portrait you are looking at. 
  4. Describe the portrait so that your friend can draw it from your description only. There are no other rules, so they are welcome to ask questions. 
  5. Swap. Now it is your turn to draw and your friend’s turn to describe. 

Quiz

In which year did Guy Maestri see Dr G Yunupingu perform?

For how long did the artist and sitter meet in person?

Which Australian band did Dr G Yunupingu join at the age of fifteen?

Next lesson

10. Symbol crash: Identity and representation

Related information

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu

Yolngu boy

Magazine article by Ashleigh Wadman, 2011

Guy Maestri’s portrait of the musician was conceived after the artist saw Gurrumul perform in Sydney on New Year’s Eve 2008.

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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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