Irish magic and science combine in new portrait
Art & Heritage Collections
The latest portrait in the University of Adelaide's series of official Vice-Chancellor portraits has been unveiled, revealing a touch of Irish magic and the Vice-Chancellor's horticultural roots.
Painted by well-known Adelaide artist Anna Platten, the painting of Professor James McWha is the most recent of the official portraits of the Vice-Chancellors commissioned since the early 1950s.
Ms Platten also painted the portrait of the University's Vice-Chancellor from 1997-2001, Professor Mary O'Kane. This portrait marked a change from the traditional style of the earlier portraits, introducing Ms Platten's brand of theatrical narrative and use of props to the official portrait series.
"Anna Platten is renowned for her portraiture and the insight with which she interprets her subject and the way she portrays them as part of a broader story," said Mirna Heruc, Manager of the University of Adelaide's Art and Heritage Collections.
The portrait of Professor McWha has him standing under the Moreton Bay Fig at the front of the University along North Terrace, holding an apple in one hand - a reference to his involvement in the program which bred the Pacific Rose apple - and with his Vice-Chancellor's robe draped over one shoulder in an allusion to a magician's cape. In the background is a less formally dressed Vice-Chancellor with familiar sun-hat.
Ms Platten said she tried to express the impressions the Vice-Chancellor made on her as a person, as well as in his role as Vice-Chancellor.
"He comes across as someone with a sense of humour, an uncomplicated kind of human being with a warm, engaging personality. That sat well with his role in opening up the University along North Terrace, the University engaging with the community," Ms Platten said.
"Then there's his scientific background and the apple. There's something slightly magical about that, along with the fact of him being Irish and with twinkly eyes. There's a connection there with the magic of university life, so I positioned the Vice-Chancellor robe across one shoulder like a magician's cape."
Anna Platten spoke about her experiences in painting portraits and the expectations around commissioned portraits at the unveiling event, this year's Art and Heritage Collections' Cultural Oration.
The Cultural Oration, `Painting a Portrait', in collaboration with the Graduate Program in Art History, was part of this year's South Australian Living Artist (SALA) Festival.
The new portrait will join others on the walls of the University's Mitchell Building.
Story by Robyn Mills