Adam Cullen, a leading Australian contemporary artist, was found dead at his home in Wentworth Falls yesterday. He was a controversial painter forging a career in irreverent ‘grunge art’ in the 90’s.
His portrait of actor David Wenham in the role of the vicious murderer from film The Boys, won him the Archibald Prize in 2000. He had courted notoriety for years, orchestrating publicity stunts such as chaining a rotting pig’s head to his ankle in art school and collaborating with criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read for their children’s book, Hooky the Cripple.
He was taken to a psychiatrist as a child growing up on Sydney’s northern beaches because the pictures he was drawing “were incredibly violent.” His fascination with violence and the macabre didn’t fade throughout his entire career. He leaves behind a body of works that bear his distinctively gritty style. He once said, “Art is a good way of documenting a life. I wish I had more time – be it a year or a hundred. This is the huge irony: the document I leave behind is about rehearsing for death.”
Cullen had been seriously ill for some time, living alone and riddled with physical and mental health issues. During a court case last year, the courts heard that his pancreas had been removed, that he suffered from diabetes and bipolar disorder. He had been caught by police driving near Goulbourn last July with a blood-alcohol reading of twice the legal limit and a number of firearms in his vehicle.
Gallery owner Michael Reid had a long association with Cullen and felt the court case that followed this incident pushed Cullen’s health to the brink.
“Adam was the real deal,’’ said Mr Reid “Even in the grips of a consuming illness, on a good day, he was one of the very best contemporary artists in Australia. Adam was astonishingly kind and the many hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in paintings he donated to charity attest to his endless giving. Adam’s death is a great loss to the nation in so many ways.”
Design Federation was a guest of the Art Series Hotel, The Cullen, a few years ago which now stands as a monument to the artist. He was one of the country’s most collectible modern painters before he died, no doubt his tragically premature death will secure his legacy as rare and sought-after.
As his lawyer told Fairfax Media today, “We have lost a great artist who lived and breathed the life of an artist.”