The Ghost Of Edwin Booth - Portrait Of John Hyde

 the audition, hyde with edwin booth, gopal 2010

The last 2 months I had a very interesting experience working with a politician in Western Australia, MLA John Hyde, the opposition minister for Arts and Heritage and Multiculturalism in Western Australia. In a series of meetings, I asked him questions about his past life before politics (he used to be an actor in the US for a while, journalist, mayor, small business-owner), his interests and inspirations.

The goal was twofold. I was able to ask those questions in the setting of Parliament House WA, his electoral office and over lunch; and explore the chanson de geste. John was forthcoming, although in some ways I felt he was treading new water with such a request. Given that several other politicians had declined to be interviewed for a painting, I am very grateful that John accepted and did all he can to understand my process. We did enter the painting into the Archibald Portrait Prize, but always knew it was an unconventional portrait, so again that became another part of the journey of this painting. What I did realise is that I am not a conventional social portrait painter.
 
The result is this painting of John (pictured), which is still working within a lens of the chanson de geste. John worked as an actor in New Orleans in the 90s, and this made me remember the American actor Edwin Booth, whose brother John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. Ironically, while I was exploring this by writing to Charleston actor Rodney Lee Rogers of Pure Theatre who had written and directed a one-man play about Edwin Booth (The Tragedian), Mr Hyde-met a great-great-grandson of JW Booth at the American Embassy the same week in Perth.

That was very coincidental and strange, and again, a reminder of the hidden process behind art and painting that rationalists everywhere would simply not understand. When asked his favourite characted in Julius Caesar, Mr Hyde replied - Cassius; and you will see I used text from Cassius in the walled background. The photo below is a study of both a speach by Cassius in the play and the government logo for Western Australia which Mr Hyde represents. A line of milk bottles appeared in a play on words, an ode to Harvey Milk, a role model for John, an openly gay member of Parliament.

So, for the stories, the access to his office and thoughts, I thank Mr. Hyde very much. It has added a new dimension in my understanding of what I'm painting. I would love to work with another politician to further explore how a creative process can expand our understanding of what a democracy actually is. As the former Secretary of State once said about American democracy: "Our democracy is a work in progress...". Indeed, if we can bring our different gifts to help it progress, that ideal can only grow forward.sketch of John Hyde on a page from The Australian Financial Review
Rome-studies for Hyde as Cassius gopalkrishnan
[pictured 1.John Hyde at lunch in his local Vietnamese restaurant 2009; 2.the final painting The Audition;  3.my drawing of John Wilkes Booth, Edwin Booth and Junius Booth Jr off a photo of a 1864 performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; 3. drawing of John on a page from the Australian Financial Review newspaper;  4.studies for the painting using the the government logo for Western Australia which Mr Hyde represents and text from Cassius/Julius Caasar. Photographed through a glass milk bottle]

 

[8/01/2015 Update] John Hyde is now Deputy Director of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD)

 
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