Friday, May 13, 2011

A Portrait of Surry Hills

My honours project for this year involves creating the portraits of a lot of people in my suburb. This takes sketching, lots of sketching and also much socialising, all of which has been very enjoyable. The rationale for this continues to adjust and refine itself, as is normal with the development of acquiring new knowledge and thoughts, and my perception of what form these portraits will take has also changed since the beginning of the year. I intend to create the portraits of a range of people within a geographically defined area (namely the suburb in which I live, Surry Hills) and who come from right across the socio-economic range of inhabitants of this suburb.
Surry Hills has an interesting mix of highly paid trendy young workers living in close proximity with a lot of housing commission apartments, crisis accommodation centres and other support services for people who are homeless for whatever reason. Scattered throughout this mix are also students, and residents who may be considered remnants of the old Surry Hills - that is, people who have lived in the area since before it started to become trendy. For the most part, it seems middle-to-low income families do not live there due to the high rental prices and the limited choice of near-by affordable schools (the exception to this is clergy).
While some artists may seek to document the feel of a suburb through recording the appearance of buildings, gardens and anonymous passer-bys, my portrait of Surry Hills is primarily a social one. All of the people I have sketched so far have been through social connections, which is exciting as because of this project I am meeting more and more of my neighbours.
My reason for wanting to paint people from the different socio-economic backgrounds is that I feel often it is easy as a society to place less value on people who we see as ‘the homeless’ or who are in housing commission accommodation. People we prefer to focus on are the accomplished, the successful, the beautiful, the well-known and respected. However, as a Christian I consider every human as having equal worth in the eyes of our creator since we are made in his image. In this respect, each resident of Surry Hills is an equally valuable element of it - a suburb is made up of all of its inhabitants - and I intend to present each of my subjects as equally valuable regardless of their socio-economic background. What I find especially interesting is how some of the people I have sketched felt that it was the very mix of wealthy and less-well-off that they found appealing about the place. One person even said that she would rather move if the increasing level of trendiness in the suburb led to the expulsion of the housing-commission places and their residents: it was the presence of such interesting characters that she found refreshing.
So this is my project, what I am up to this year... I could say more about how this connects to my consideration of the wider place of portraiture in Australia but I might save that for another entry... as well as speculations on exactly what the final portraits might look like. For the moment, here are a number of the sketches I have done so far...

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