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Adam Cullen Let's Get Lost Set to Open at The Art Gallery of New South Wales
Adam Cullen, Finding ways to forgive yourself, 2001. Ink, enamel, acrylic on canvas. 153 X 213 cm. Private Collection. Image courtesy Yuill/Crowley Sydney.
SYDNEY.- Adam Cullen is a unique figure in contemporary Australian art, a larger-than-life artist whose abrasive yet expressive paintings are a confronting and incisive view of contemporary life. His often satirical works are a form of social allegory, a cutting portrait of our national psyche caught in a suspended stage of development. Cullen’s visual language and references are relentlessly local, even parochial, as his work encapsulates a particular experience of urban and suburban existence. This exhibition includes paintings and sculpture from the early 1990s until now.

Early in his career, Adam Cullen became renowned as an enfant terrible in the Australian art world. He has never been afraid to skirt around danger in his aesthetics and his practice. He gained early fame in his art school days by dragging a rotting pigs head around chained to his ankle. He raised eyebrows by collaborating with the infamous Mark ‘Chopper’ Read for their children’s book, Hooky the Cripple. He was well established as a Sydney ‘grunge’ artist when he won the prestigious Archibald Prize for his portrait of actor David Wenham in 2000, raising hackles amongst the more conservative members of the Australian art world.

But regardless of the bad boy posturings, there is also an extraordinary sense of both humour and pathos about Cullen’s work. He plays a delicate balancing act between punk-brashness and a terrifying, relentless honesty, expressing his own grave doubts about himself and the world around him.

There is a sense of despair running through the work, but with its extraordinary vigour, Cullen manages to overcome the negatives, creating a world of leaping leprechauns and bizarre figurines.

In the 2004 monograph Scars Last Longer, the author, Ingrid Periz, refutes the bad boy image, revealing an artist of extraordinary skill and sensitivity.

“Dead cats, bloodied ’roos, inflatable men and headless women,” Periz writes. “Sydney painter Adam Cullen likes to conjure up the elements of a place called ‘Loserville’, pipe in some lounge music and depart the scene, but not for anywhere better.”

Cullen’s highly personal language ends up becoming universal. His schoolboy humour is matched by a highly sophisticated expression of moods and responses to society, moments of anger balanced with hilarity; an asylum turning into a festival. And it is all expressed with a powerful, gestural mark and bold colouration.

Adam Cullen was born in Sydney in 1965. He graduated from the City Art Institute with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986, a Diploma of Professional Art Studies from the City Art Institute in 1987 and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales in 1999. He has shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions throughout Australia and New Zealand.

In 2002 he represented Australia at the 25th Bienal de Sao Paulo Iconografias Metropolitanas.

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