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Stand and Stare: A Portrait of Royal Headache’s Shogun Is Competing in the 2015 Archibald Prize

The painting captures the brooding intensity of one of Australia's most enigmatic frontmen.
June 24, 2015, 12:48am

A powerful portrait of Royal Headache’s Shogun is competing in the Archibald Prize, Australia’s most prestigious portraiture award.

Sydney artist Janis Clarke has captured the dark energy of the enigmatic punk front man in a commanding painting that emphasises the singer’s bright eyes amidst a dusky and somber background.

Administered by the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Archibald has been awarded annually since 1921. Previous winners have included portraits of actor Hugo Weaving, musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and former Prime Ministers Paul Keating and the Honorabel EG Whitlam. This year’s prize is $100,000.

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After a nearly four year wait Royal Headache will release High, their second studio album August 21. The release will followed by a bunch of US dates in August to promote the album.

We spoke to Clarke, who is completing a BFA at the National School of Art, about the portrait.

Noisey: It’s an amazing piece. Did Shogun sit for you?
Janis Clarke: We had him over for dinner and mostly chatted, I did a few quick sketches while we talked.

How was he approached?
My girlfriend knows him from childhood and they've played in various bands together over the years so I had that connection. I'd met him a handful of times prior to starting the portrait so it wasn't that difficult to approach him about it. As an artist I'm not very demanding, it was more important for me to chat and gain an insight into his inner workings rather than put him and myself through a lengthy objective study. In that respect it was really easy, it was just like hanging out.

What were you guys talking about?
I was really interested in discussing lyrics. His lyrics are poetic, short and sharp. They feel honest, almost like diary entries. After discussing some of these lyrics it became apparent to me just how honest they are. He spoke of his songs and lyrics as attempts at capturing little moments of truth, which is an idea that really resonated with me and seemed to encapsulate the raw, honest feel and sound of Royal Headache.

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And what does Shogun think of the piece?
I think he likes it. Well at least he said he did! I did some pretty brutal preliminary drawings that he liked, so this should be a bit easier to take.

I'm no art expert but I really like the darkness of the piece and the brightest things are his eyes. Like his soul/voice is coming through his eyes.
I had a vague idea about how I was going to approach the painting and this became clearer to me after some preliminary studies. I wanted to do a portrait that was visually arresting. Because Shogun is an enigmatic, dark sort of character, the choice to use a darker palette was a conscious one.

Objectively speaking, Shogun is all angles, which is really captivating, so I knew I wanted to capture the aesthetic of his face whilst maintaining a level of engagement through eye contact.

I named the work "Truth" which became the primary concept behind the work after our chats. The eyes can be the most telling part of a portrait. Direct eye contact is synonymous with truth so it was really important for me to convey that in the painting.

The Archibald Prizes will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW from July 18 to September 27.

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