Graeme Heard mightn’t be a household name, but the Geelong West artist sure knows how to name-drop. After painting portraits of John Howard, Ricky Ponting, Cathy Freeman and Gough Whitlam, there’s few prolific Australians Graeme hasn’t captured on canvas. Though from his impressive list, Graeme looks on the late and well-respected Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe as a highlight. Peter passed away aged 85-years-old in early August after a long and successful career. He left behind many fans, one of which was Graeme.
“I painted [the portrait] some three years earlier and I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, I’d rather like to meet Sculthorpe and give it to him myself and see what he thought of it,’” he says. “When I went to actually arrange that, I got his phone number out of the phone book, and he said to me, ‘Before you say any more, I’d love to have a look at it, but I can’t guarantee I’ll like it’.”
Graeme promptly showed Peter his painting, which had been remarked on by Peter’s friends as showing a remarkable likeness to his character, and he loved it. In an email Peter referred to the painting as capturing his “music and [his] innermost feelings”. Peter went on to thank Graeme for revealing him to himself and for turning it not only into a portrait but its own “musical composition”, something that was a huge aspect of Peter’s life.
Also with a painting of Queen Elizabeth II in the royal collection and one of Prince Charles in his personal collection, it’s a surprise that the “bum from Geelong”, as Graeme refers to himself as, isn’t a celebrated Geelong artist. Instead, after a short stint at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and the Gordon TAFE, Graeme decided to become a gardener to give him the freedom to create the artworks he wanted to minus the pressure to make a profit.
“I never wanted to turn the art into a money machine. I wanted to paint from the heart; that to me was the guts and the strength behind the meaning of painting,” Graeme says.
Now retired at 65-years-old, Graeme is taking joy in doing things at his own rate and has just recently finished a portrait of Donald Trump.
“I want to add to what I’ve done in my own time – if it’s good and relevant it’ll remain, but if not, it’s destroyed,” he says.
While many mightn’t understand his work or see the face in it, Graeme isn’t fussed. He doesn’t paint for an audience or to please but purely for himself, though as a result he is his hardest critic to please. Painted in an impressionism style with colours taken from the characters’ personalities, the artworks are made to be admired from a distance.
“The idea is that when you stand back it comes together as an image; it’s not painted to look like a photograph or a replicated image,” Graeme says.
Regardless of whether or not you can see the face, there’s an overwhelming sense of character and emotion in each one of Graeme’s painting. As Peter Sculthorpe would agree, Graeme does a great job of what he does.
By Amanda Sherring