If the purpose of art is to evoke an emotional response, then RMIT alumnus and Adjunct Professor Vincent Fantauzzo would have been gratified at the unveiling of his most recent work.
A crowd of politicians and supporters gasped and cheered as his striking portrait of former Prime Minister, The Hon. Julia Gillard was revealed at a ceremony at Parliament House in October
A full-face close-up, showing Gillard with a penetrating gaze and quizzical smile is in stark contrast to paintings of the 26 other Australian Prime Ministers hanging in the Members Hall at Parliament House.
As Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Gillard was clear before the project started that there was one clear story she wanted this painting to tell.
“It could tell the story that I was different to every Prime Minister that had come before; that I was the first woman to serve in this role.”
It’s not just her gender that makes the image stand out among the paintings of men in suits and ties that make up the rest of our Prime Ministerial portraiture.
While the arresting, full-face image is in the artist’s signature style, it was also a conscious and deliberate choice by Fantauzzo and Gillard to focus the portrait from the neck up, removing all other distractions from the equation.
Speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 program, Fantauzzo said they wanted to take away any of the influences of fashion and other ways that a person could be judged outside their achievements.
“Minimalising things and trying to keep it simple and honest was part of the process,” he said.
In the same 7.30 interview, Gillard said the endless commentary on what women in leadership were wearing remained a frustration.
“When I was PM, there were times when it was truly absurd,” she said.
Fantauzzo, a six-time Archibald Prize finalist and a winner of the Doug Moran Portrait Prize, said he had long admired Gillard.
"You can't capture everything in a portrait, but I wanted to capture Julia as someone [who was] a game changer, someone proud, humble, and really passionate about Australians," he said.An Adjunct Professor at RMIT since 2015, Fantauzzo is a distinguished RMIT alumnus with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and a Master of Fine Arts.
Famous for his confronting realist full facial style, his entry of the late Heath Ledger in the 2008 Archibald Portrait Prize put him in second place overall and won him with the People’s Choice award.
The following year, Fantauzzo picked up the People’s Choice award again, for his depiction of actor Brandon Walters.
In 2009 he was also awarded GQ Artist of the year and produced 30 Portraits in 30 days in Hong Kong. He went on to repeat this project in New York in 2011 and in Australia in 2012, with 30 portraits featuring inspirational Australians displayed at the National Galleries of Victoria (NGV) Studio
Fantauzzo’s other list of achievements include the Archibald Packing Room Prize, the Doug Moran Portrait Prize (for his depiction of Baz Lurhmann), and the Metro Art Award in 2011, Archibald Prize finalist for his portrait of partner Asher Keddie, ‘Love Face', which subsequently won the People’s Choice Award in 2013 and the People’s Choice Award for a self-portrait of his son Luca in 2014.
Gillard’s association with RMIT is not a new one, having opened RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice in 2013.
She recently returned to RMIT for a wide-ranging discussion about politics, advocacy and reform at a special event to mark the Centre’s fifth anniversary.
Image caption: Vincent Fantauzzo (born 1977) The Hon. Julia Gillard AC, 2018, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra, ACT.
Story: Karen Phelan