Connected - Tim Flannery

The idea of painting a portrait of Tim Flannery came to me some time in 2003 after winning the first prize for painting from the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize. It was during the opening ceremony at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide where I met Tim for the first time. The whole event was an inspiring experience for me; I had won my first major art prize, met many people and received lots of commendations. Tim Flannery’s sincere words of commendation and encouragement were what I, as an emerging artist, needed.

Inspired by Tim, I became interested in the environmental issues. I endeavoured to study his books and attended his public speeches and book launching events.  I studied books by other environmentalists such as Ian Lowe and David Suzuki. I became particularly interested in the concept of the universal connectivity; the fact that our lives are connected to each other, to the earth, and to the universe as a whole. The concept that has been beautifully conveyed in the following famous lines by the 13th century Iranian poet Saadi, which are inscribed in the Hall of Nations in the UN building in New York City:

Human beings are members of a whole,

In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain,

Other members uneasy will remain.

If you have no sympathy for human pain,

The name of human you cannot retain.

Due to the profound connection of these environmental scientists, writers and activists to nature, and due to their strong commitment to save our natural environment, I respected their viewpoints greatly. I began to ponder through the plethora of rushing ideas for  paintings to express my concerns about the environment and to praise those who were active in giving us awareness about environmental issues.

I came up with a project, which was inspired by designs from Persian pictorial rugs, which incorporate a central theme surrounded by human figures of historical and social importance.  Based on this design composition, I envisioned a large painting with an image of a tree of life as its central subject surrounded by patterns of the environment and faces of major Australian influential environmentalists.

I made an appointment with Tim Flannery to discuss my project and ask him to help me in identifying and connecting with those environmentalists that he knows well and those who have contributed significantly to Australian environmental awareness. We had our meeting in the Museum coffee shop. I went through my artist portfolio showing him my artwork. Tim was silent all the time, just listening and viewing the images of my work. It made me a bit nervous. I thought I was wasting his time. When I finished my presentation, he told me that the he loved my work and he would like to have an exhibition of work in the Museum Gallery. I was stunned by his offer and happily accepted the proposition. The exhibition was opened by Tim was a successful event.

The idea of my painting project however, was hampered by the difficulty in communicating with other environmentalists that were recommended by Tim; therefore, I decided to concentrate on Tim himself a worthy subject for a portrait painting. In his office, he posed for photographs, but he could not sit for life drawing because he had promised to sit for another artist who intended to submit the portrait to the Archibald. He invited me to go out and have coffee with him, which provided another opportunity for me to make some mental images from his face. Unfortunately, for me, Tim then moved to Sydney, and I could not catch up with him.

I came up with an idea of moving beyond making a portrait for the portrait sake.v g  I decided that my painting should become a means to reflect the whole life, its synchronously oneness and wholeness which is embedded in Tim Flannery’s teachings and messages. This painting was not intended to be a portrait for submission to any portrait competitions. It should rather convey this universal truth that we are all connected, we are all one. Tim Flannery deserved to become a symbol of the life’s connectivity - an agent for connection that radiates from inside out to embrace whole life at large.

Through the painting process, the diverse elements emerged gradually, and a complex layered composition resolved slowly.  The painting became one of the most challenging painting endeavours I have committed to. Finally, the idea was embellished with the design of Persian rugs as a symbol of harmony and beauty.

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