ACT News


Portraits of war hero Ben Roberts-Smith reflect shades of a life in combat

There are two new portraits hanging in the Australian War Memorial this week.

One is a startling, larger-than-life rendition of a larger-than-life man, wearing camouflage in a combat stance.

The other is a quiet, small-scale portrait of a soldier in uniform.

Both are of Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith, a man who has grown used to the world having a perception of him that has nothing to do with his real life.

"When you look at them together, particularly when you stand back, from my point of view, you can really feel that in between these two pictures is somewhere where I fit in," he said at the portraits' unveiling on Tuesday.

The works are by Brisbane artist Michael Zavros, commissioned by the war memorial after Roberts-Smith chose him out of several artist portfolios.


Roberts-Smith said he was drawn by the hyper-real style of Zavros' work.

"My only concern was that I didn't know enough about art to be confident that I'd get a portrait that represented me in a way that I felt was appropriate," he said.

"I knew that Michael would essentially paint me as I am, so that appealed to me."

Zavros, a multi-award winning artist who has been an Archibald finalist five times, said he was daunted by the prospect of painting a war hero, mainly because there was such a media focus on Roberts-Smith when he was first approached three years ago.

"There was so much about him at the time, and to be engaging with someone who was suddenly in this celebrity role was interesting," he said.

"So much of the reporting on Ben and the mythology that surrounds this person that has become a hero for Australians can be quite one-dimensional, and I think it is interesting to explore a further dimension, to add to a story that's maybe less known."

Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during a helicopter assault in Afghanistan, while serving with the Special Air Service regiment during the war in 2010.

He said he wanted the portrait to represent more than just him.

"For someone who's spent most of his time not being known, to know that you're having a portrait done that will hang in front of potentially thousands of people for the next hundred years is a very daunting experience," he said.

"I wouldn't say it doesn't sit comfortably with me, but I certainly think that it's important to remember that I represent so many more people.

"What's happened to me on one day - not even one day - is not what is relevant. What's relevant is I stand here as representative of all of those service men and women who have served alongside me, and our generation.

"That is what I hope people take away from the portrait."