Notorious former underworld identity Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read was no Van Gogh, but his unique artworks can still tell some harrowing stories.
Self-described as the 21st Century’s Ned Kelly, Chopper Read is certainly a name and a man with many stories that are hard to forget: from the story behind Chopper Read’s ripped ear, his infamous tattoos, his bleak sense of humour, extreme violence or the legend of his criminal transgressions.
A life that knew no bounds, Read was a career criminal, a legend of the underworld and a pop culture icon during the 2000’s. Read cemented his place in history with other Victorian criminals by capturing the community’s imagination through television, film, music and art.
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In his books, he claimed to have been involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. But these stories have been picked apart ever since Read wrote them. Despite the high possibility Read’s stories are embellished, polished or in some cases, stolen, there is also no doubt that through the 1970s and 1980s he was one of the most dangerous men in Australia.
He spent 23 years in jail for violent crimes, including armed robbery, kidnapping, arson, assault and attempted murder, though he was never convicted of murder.
Just weeks before his passing, dying of liver cancer in 2013, he admitted to 60 Minutes that he had killed four people including fellow gangster, Siam Ozerkam, known as Sammy the Turk.
Though when he wasn’t committing crime, Chopper Read made a living as a children’s book author and artist – 500,000 copies of Read’s books have been sold to date, making him one of Australia’s most successful authors.
It’s his art though that will be explored in an exciting art exhibition currently on show at the Geelong Gaol Museum.
Arriving on Sunday, July 31 and running until October 3, the exhibition showcases a selection of rarely seen art pieces from the Read Family Estate, beautiful framed and displayed in the infamous Geelong Gaol Cell Block where Read lived during the 1980s.
Read, who was a self-taught painter, called his style of painting “Primitive Pop”, drawing influence from the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and inspired by Read’s friendship with Archibald Prize winning painter Adam Cullen. With a certain rawness about his work and the use of vivid colours effectively, Read captured the essence of his subject and, like his books, was able to recount his underworld past, exploring his troubled, colourful and at times sad and traumatic life.
The exhibition officially opened on Sunday with a VIP event with Mrs Margaret Read, Chopper’s wife, in attendance and run to the end of October.
A limited print run of Read’s original exhibition will be available for sale during the exhibition.
Since its closure in 1991, it has been used as the location of a number of films and television series. Between 1995 and 2019, it was run as a museum hosted by the Rotary Club of Geelong. The Geelong Gaol Museum started in June 2019. If you’re looking for something different to do, head on down to the Old Geelong Gaol and explore the history of Victorian crime. If you like investigating old haunted buildings, they do run tours.
Chopper Framed runs until October 3 2022. Geelong Gaol Museum is open daily. Find out more here.