Indigenous Eye – Prof. Hugh Taylor AC Portrait

The 29th of February is an auspicious date in itself, happening only once every 4 years. It was also the day we unveiled my Portrait of Professor Hugh Taylor AC at the Victorian Art Society for CERA.

Before I write about the approach to the commission, I’ll give a quick bio summary on Prof. Taylor and his extraordinary achievements.

As one of Australia’s leading practicing ophthalmologist, academic leader, researcher and eye health advocate, Hugh Taylor has dedicated his life to the fight against preventable blindness and has received many awards and honours. Some 15 years ago, he founded CERA, The Centre for Eye Research Australia, and from it’s humble beginnings based at the Eye & Ear Hospital in Victoria, with a staff of seven, it fast became known as a dynamic organisation where outstanding people did (and continue to do) exceptional work. It has now grown to a medium-sized research institute with an annual budget in the order of $12 million and some 130 staff and students. Last year, a benchmarking exercise showed that CERA together with the University Department of Ophthalmology now ranks among the top five eye research groups in the world.

In 2012 Prof. Taylor became the first Australian to win the Prestigious Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research – a culmination of 30 years of work in Eye Health. The prize was presented to him in the USA by Keller’s great grandniece. On an interesting side note, as a child Prof. Taylor was introduced to the astounding Helen Keller herself when she was visiting his Ophthalmologist grandfather in Melbourne.

First approached by CERA’s Managing Director Gerlinde Scholz, it was with great honour that I accepted the commission. Early dialogue between Gerlinde and Judy, Hugh’s PA gave valuable insight to the ‘personal’ side of Hugh, who is now the Harold Mitchell Professor of Indigenous Eye Health at the University of Melbourne, and it was there when our diaries aligned that I was able to have our first meeting together. These early meet and greets are mostly relaxed, I never go in with expectations, rather just being open to the organic development of what can evolve.












Obviously this portrait needed to reflect what Prof. Taylor and CERA are about. What really came to the forefront was Hugh’s passion for the ‘Eye’ with particular attention to Trachoma disease and how to eradicate it from the Indigenous community. Trachoma still affects 84 million children in 56 countries, blinding 1.5 million adults a year.

Hugh’s book on Trachoma with a wonderful piece of art on the cover illustrating the eye in an indigenous dot painting was inspiring. When Hugh showed me a bunch of photos on his computer, some with him working alongside the notable Fred Hollows in remote communities, one sprung out, it was an Australian Aboriginal woman with the worlds best eye sight, reading a tumbling ‘E’ vision chart some 12 meters away and she could read the second bottom line at 6/1.4. The E chart caught my fancy, I hadn’t seen anything like it before, universal in it’s language and use, it had the perfect abstract shapes but in a very scientific way. If I could marry up these elements, particularly in the background it would form my narrative.

The collaboration continued with sittings in my studio. I chose a fine weave raw linen which had rabbit skin glue but no primer….I prepared the surface further with clear primer as i wanted that unique natural fibre / weave to show through. It also set up my base tone that was further added to with a sand and deeper blue. Most dot painting have a darker base as this really pushes the dots ‘out’ almost giving it a flock appearance. The dark navy also helped balance what was happening in the jacket. I wanted the background dot painting/technique to be not only behind Hugh but also painted into the shirt and foreground, whilst difficult to see with these flat internet images, the texture of the raised dots are definitely there. For me they breathe and blend through Hugh…the notion that it is all as one, his passion for eye and indigenous.

Several colour way tests on paper were done; first trials were somewhat too bright, with the final colour palette subdued and in harmony with the shirt and jacket. The dots were applied in the old fashioned way ‘with a stick of wood’. Attention was given to not making the ‘E’ edges too graphic, trying to soften with a slight gradation of tone and a brokenness. A real splash of colour came from Hugh’s trademark bow tie….something that definitely needed to be included.













The portrait was completed in early 2012 and now hangs in the Ringland Anderson Room at CERA, along side Prof. Gerard W Crock, Hugh’s Predecessor, painted by Wes Walters, Dr J. Ringland Anderson (Hugh’s Grandfather) by Sklovsky and Dr Archie S. Anderson by William Dargie, well esteemed company for sure!
And whilst my time with Hugh was short, he was positively charming and inspirational, with a generous appetite to make real changes in the world. He was quoted as saying “ Privilege comes with responsibility, those of us who have resources to spare, special skills or knowledge have an obligation to put those at the service of others who need help.”

I also want to acknowledge the generous support from the Board members, the University, the Vision CRC, the Victorian Lions Foundation and other friends towards financing this portrait project.


B/W photo: courtesy Hugh Taylor

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