When Jessica Mauboy is doing a photoshoot she’s usually surrounded by a production team, stylists, hair and make-up people, record label management – people deciding how she looks and how she will be portrayed.
As one of 20 prominent Australians featured in the National Portrait Gallery’s new 20/20: Celebrating twenty years with twenty new portrait commissions, this time it was a completely different story.
This was an intimate affair, just Mauboy and Melbourne-based contemporary artist David Rosetzky, one on one, getting to know each other, Mauboy singing and dancing a little, Rosetzky clicking away with his camera.
“It was that connection that allowed me to open up,” says Mauboy.
“There was a real connection and while I was fearful at the start, David’s spiritualness, his sense of calm, made me feel comfortable and allowed the real me to shine through.”
20/20 is the culmination of a special project celebrating the gallery’s 20th birthday. Since 1998 more than 50 portraits have entered the collection through the commissioning program. These 20 have been pulled together over the past 18 months to significantly boost the overall collection, which now stands at 2700 portraits.
NPG director Angus Trumble said the commissioning process allowed the gallery to fill gaps in the collection to better reflect Australian history and culture.
“Great care was taken in bringing together the subjects and artists to bring out the best in the creative process,” Trumble said.
“As a result, each work is a striking and unique representation of the 20 individuals but also reflective of the relationship they developed with their respective artists.”
This relationship is an important part of the process, says Rosetzky.
“Jess and I met in Sydney about three or four months before the actual shoot, getting to know each other,” he says.
“It really helped me a lot in working out my concept, knowing how to work with Jess, how she wanted to work with me.”
Rosetzky said he wanted to create an image that would convey Mauboy’s depth of character, confidence and energy as a performer.
“Rather than presenting a single perspective, I chose the photographic process of double exposure … creating a more multi-faceted representation.
“This is a less tangible, more mysterious image of Jess that in my mind relates to the magic of her music and her voice.”
At Thursday’s launch in Canberra, it was the first time Mauboy had seen the finished portrait.
“What I felt in the studio, that connection - I’m feeling that still, seeing it for the first time today,” she says.
“It’s like, wow!”
It’s obvious the pair have bonded over the process. They start and finish each other’s sentences, Mauboy hugs Rosetzky and says she’s made a friend for life. When I suggest that perhaps now she needs to write him a song, a glorious, melodious giggle escapes her mouth.
Two artists have come together to create something special, and that’s the magic of portraiture.
The subjects and artists commissioned for the project include Li Cunxin by Jun Chen, Tim Fairfax by Russell Shakespeare, David Foster by Jacqui Stockdale, Andrew Gaze by George Fetting, Peter Goldsworthy by Deidre But-Husaim, Fred Hilmer by Evert Ploeg, Tan Le by John Tsiavis, Gail Kelly by Paul Newton, Catherine Livingstone by Mathew Lyn, Jessica Mauboy by David Rosetzky, Mal Meninga by Peter Hudson, Anna Meares by Narelle Autio, Louis Nowra by Imants Tiller, Nicholas Paspaley jnr by Andrew Bonneau, Ben Roberts-Smith by Julian Kingma, Margaret Seares by Cherry Hood, Tony Shaw by Sarah Rhodes, Michelle Simmons by Selina Ou, Richard Tognetti by Louise Hearman and Jackie Weaver by John Tsiavis.
20/20: Celebrating twenty years with twenty new portrait commissions is at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, until February 10, 2019.