Professor Kate Leslie was ANZCA President from 2010 – 2012. At the end of each president’s term, the college commissions a portrait. There is now quite the collection of painted portraits dating back to 1992, when the college formally came into being. In this post, Professor Leslie recounts her experience sitting for her portrait in a stunning rural landscape.
Riverton, the home of renowned artist, Robert ‘Alfie’ Hannaford and his wife Alison Mitchell, lies about 110 kms north of Adelaide between the Barossa and Clare Valleys. Although my portrait could have been painted in Alfie’s studio in Adelaide or even in Melbourne, I chose Riverton because of the legendary light and the chance to ‘feel the serenity’ of the stunning pastoral landscapes of the region.
I arrived at Riverton in the middle of a cold snap in July 2013 and so each morning began with lighting the fire in the cottage on Alfie’s property where I stayed, and a brisk walk around the dam to the studio. The sittings started at 9am, went until about 3pm, and lasted for a week. It wasn’t too hard to sit still. Radio National was on in the background, and our conversation ebbed and flowed depending on what was on or other things that came up – everything from asylum seekers to the royal baby, memories of childhood, thoughts about death and jokes heard in theatre (in my case) or around the district (in Alfie’s). We even sang a few show tunes. As a frequent flyer in the medical system in recent years, Alfie’s insights into being a patient were fascinating. Sometimes ‘Trusty’, Alfie’s labrador, would come and visit if he wasn’t busy chasing rabbits.
Alfie was a picture of concentration whilst painting, rather like a surgeon deep in a complex operation. I gradually got used to his intense gaze and his quick dashes back and forth to the canvas that was situated just behind me to my left. I was reassured that he was painting the light as it reflected on my face rather than what I think of as my many imperfections – I agree with Billy Hughes’ famous remark that ‘when having my portrait painted I don’t want justice, I want mercy’. Recognising that the picture was not about me but the presidency of our college, I tried to adopt an expression that was caring, enquiring, authoritative and engaging all at the same time. Somehow humming The Backstreet Boys’ ‘As long as you love me’ helped me keep the look I wanted for five days … not sure what that says about anaesthetists (or me!). The whole portrait was painted from life, without any photos, and I am thrilled with the result. I think it looks more like me than a photo because it reflects how I looked over a period of time, not in a particular instant.
Having a portrait taken and kept for posterity is an incredible privilege. Our college engaged some wonderful artists to contribute to our collection of portraits. I think a portrait captures something unique about our college and its presidents that I hope is valuable to our fellows now and into the future.