The Mick Dodson portrait

Artist Amanda King recently returned to AIATSIS to undertake conservation work on her portrait of Mick Dodson.

The treasured, collage-styled portrait has hung at the entrance to AIATSIS for many years, where it has been in prime position for visitors and staff to admire but also susceptible to the sun’s UV rays. Ms King has been an active artist and filmmaker since graduating from the Newcastle College of Advanced Education in 1977 but it wasn’t until the 1990s that she refined her intricate collage style. Ms King took time to reflect on the genesis of the portrait and the work involved in conserving it.

Amanda King next to her portrait of Professor Mick Dodson
Amanda King next to her portrait of Professor Mick Dodson

An introduction to Mick Dodson came from a friend, James Godfree who had worked with him at the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales. Mick’s crucial role in the Bringing Them Home Enquiry and his personal and very moving accounts of his own life have made a strong impression on me.

I am an artist guided by the sitter; they have some say in the way they are depicted. Mick was not in his usual office attire but had no compunction to appear otherwise for his portrait. His ‘working in the shed at home’ outfit, and his characteristic black ‘cowboy’ hat with echidna quills decorated with the Aboriginal colours – seemed to naturally lead to the desert style background depicted in the background of the portrait.

For me the portrait evokes the image of an Aboriginal stockman rather than the chairman of an institution based in the country’s national capital – a Canberra bureaucrat, dare I say. Which Mick definitely isn’t but it’s the sort of impression one could get if it was a traditional portrait of Mick in suit and tie sitting at his desk in the new office. He managed to throw the possibility of such a stereotype completely out the window.

The portrait was created by using cuttings from glossy fashion magazines kindly donated by Vogue when I enquired. Fashion magazines provide me with a palette of colour and texture without me needing to use paint or other traditional artist’s mediums. It creates an almost instant range of diverse hues and the appearance of textures; I work directly from the magazines with scissors searching for the colour I need at the time it’s to be applied.

The portrait features an actual Reconciliation sticker on the tea mug Mick’s holding. Getting it proved quite a task. Once the decade of reconciliation was over and the funding cut, stickers were hard to come by. Fortunately the Sydney ATSIC office could give me a former member of the Sea of Hands committee’s phone number and she kindly sent me a few.

Printed papers and watercolours are highly susceptible to damage from UV light. To keep the portrait in great shape I recently painted two coats of professional artist medium which contains a UV protection feature to reduce the impact of the UV.