It was with great sadness we heard the news that artist Adam Cullen had died in July 2012 following a long illness. After winning the Archibald Prize with his portrait of actor David Whenam in his character from The Boys, Cullen had become a highly collectable artist who created his own unique mark on the world through his colourful and confronting paintings.
At his funeral, Cullen was remembered as a cheeky boy, a rebel with a shy demeanor seemingly at odds with his unsettling choice of subject matter – a motley collection of mutants, transgressors and slavering beasts. His later paintings, which included a masterful reworking of Ned Kelly, sketch out a version of Australian-ness that is both hyper-masculine and liminal; a Mad Max-style psychedelia.
Devil Man is no exception. Painted in Cullen’s ‘quick-draw’ style, the subject of this painting oozes malevolence, and demands a visceral response. The speed with which this sketch was painted does not mean it was not thought through; this is the product of a long and dedicated art practice.
But there is no call to action here.- When analyzing Cullen’s controversial portraits of rapists and underworld figures, writer Cathy Lumby concluded that his intention was to neither raise up nor put down his subjects, merely to report and have the viewers pass judgment. The Devil Man painting in our collection could bear the same kind of analysis: Cullen was not a follower or denouncer of his subjects, rather he acknowledged the existence of the darker side of humanity – leaving it up to you to decide what side to take.
Assistant Curator (Collection)
This article first appeared in U Magazine, September 2012