The Archibald Prize is Australia’s most widely recognised and prestigious portraiture prize. The touring exhibition of finalists’ works is always a highlight for any gallery, and we’re very fortunate to have the exhibition on display at the Glasshouse until October 7! Artist and plastic surgeon Andrew Lloyd Greensmith is just one of the finalists in the 2017 Archibald Prize – his artwork is pictured top left. Andrew is a man of many talents, but is humble about his achievements.
Hi Andrew. Where did you grow up – and where’s home these days?
I was born and grew up in Auckland, New Zealand.
Many readers may know you through your work as a plastic surgeon, and certainly one of the more memorable cases (general public perception-wise) you were involved with was that of Bangladeshi conjoined twins Krishna and Trishna. What impact did this particular case have on your life/career?
It was a privilege to get the chance to face such a case, as we faced an almost impossible challenge and were really trying to something that only a handful had attempted and had not really had success with. It was a team effort, and I was only part of the various components of the team.
I guess it taught me or reinforced to me that when you really focus and have a passion for something, you can achieve great things.
Having been self taught at art, my knowledge and technical skill acquisition is constantly driven by passion for people and art.
Where did your interest in art and painting begin?
I was always interested in drawing from a young age, but in fact anything craft related or hands on – building model aeroplanes, painting tiny toy soldiers. Anything that involved creating something with your hands appealed.
I also remember always being observant of things – changes of light on the sea, the magic light of early morning or late afternoon from a young age.
How have you managed to juggle your roles as both medical professional and artist over the years?
It has been difficult to find time to spend acquiring real artistic skills – something had to give, and it meant in the end calling an end to a prestigious public university hospital career. I found that increasingly working in a large institution was a little stifling; creativity is generally not encouraged, and basically there was not enough time to do everything.
I resigned the position of Chief of Craniofacial Surgery at the Royal Children’s Hospital three years ago and have not looked back. I miss my patients and my team there, but feel like a gap in my life has been filled replacing this time with painting and drawing.
Your first entry in the Archibald Prize was your portrait of (at the time) 102 year old dancer and choreographer Eileen Kramer. Why did you choose to make Eileen the subject of your painting?
I was just becoming a little more accomplished with painting portraits of family and friends and someone suggested I should have a go at entering the Archibald Prize. At the same time, I came across an article on Eileen in a newspaper and found her inspiring, and even more so because my daughter is an aspiring ballerina and very artistic, so I could relate strongly to her. It is important to be able to relate to your subject.
I plucked up the courage to approach her via the Arts Health Institute in Sydney and arranged a sitting, and it took off from there.
The resulting work, The stillness of Eileen Kramer, which we’ll be able to see at the Glasshouse Gallery, is simply beautiful. What were you hoping to convey of Eileen’s persona with this portrait – and were you happy with the final result?
The work took me four months to complete. I wanted to convey her not just as a dancer and an artist, but as a dreamer and someone who has lived all her life energised through art, rather than chasing a “safe” career path like many of the younger generation are persuaded to do.
Eileen is a shining example of art as a way of living and not using art primarily to make a living. I think many art academies have lost this now, to the detriment of their students.
As a plastic surgeon, you have a more in depth understanding of the human body and musculoskeletal structure than most of us. How has this assisted (or hindered!) your portraiture work?
It is a help for sure, and partly compensates for my major technical deficiencies – especially when first starting. It helps with knowing what the form is doing, but working out how to render that form in a convincing way remains a challenge.
I am very interested in people of all walks of life and am fortunate to meet 40 – 50 new people a week in work as a plastic surgeon, and I think a genuine interest in people feeds nicely into portrait painting.
You’re a finalist in the Archibald Prize again this year, with your portrait of Susan Carland. How has this recognition influenced/inspired you?
I am the sort of person who is underneath it all always questioning myself and whether I deserve something, so in some ways I feel it should reassure me that the first success in 2017 was justified. But on the other hand, I think the constant self doubt of an artist creeps in and makes you wonder whether you really deserve to be selected for the Archibald. I suppose it is the artist’s equivalent of stage fright, as I generally try to avoid the limelight.
Where can we see more of your art or find out more about you?
I am painting more and more and have just started to receive some requests for commissions, but I still feel like I cannot really call myself a working artist. I also do not get involved in any social media such as Facebook or Instagram and currently do not have a web page.
Interview: Jo Robinson.
This exhibition is on show at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery, August 25 – October 7. Tickets single $7.50 / member $5 / U12 $5.
An Art Gallery of New South Wales touring exhibition. Presenting partner, ANZ.