When an artist and an author meet

May 6, 2019

Sydney artist Evert Ploeg has been illustrating book covers for children’s author, poet and publisher Geoffrey McSkimming since the late 1980s but had only spent limited time with the Cairo Jim chronicles author.

When his daughters were around 9 and 6, “we started going to book launches” as they were into McSkimming’s Phyllis Wong books and the two Copyright Agency members rekindled their connection.

Ploeg decided to paint McSkimming for the Archibald Prize a couple of years ago “as he’s quirky, has a good face to paint and is on the same page as me,” says Ploeg.

“I like to work on character-driven portraits and Geoffrey is a performer who likes to dress up. His wife Sue-Anne Webster is a magician and they combine their love of story and magic into performances at schools.”

For his part, McSkimming says he was delighted to be caught on canvas by Ploeg, “having shared the same sense of humour and other appreciations over the years. The experience of posing and liaising for all the sittings was something I’d never imagined.”

It took Ploeg about three months to complete the portrait, called Believe Then, if you Please, that I can do Strange Things, and it has garnered some acclaim since. It was a finalist in the 2017 Black Swan Prize for Portraiture (now called the Lester Prize) at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, a semi-finalist in the 2018 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize and was recently recognised by the Portrait Society of America’s 21st International Competition in Atlanta. From 2,968 entries received, Evert was named one of 27 ‘Certificate of Excellence’ winners.

In the portrait, McSkimming has a nine of diamonds playing card on his forehead to represent his publishing company 9 Diamonds Press.

McSkimming says: “Evert is a true master of his art, and it’s reflected in the finished portrait (which we occasionally refer to as “Man in Skirt”). And, as is often the case with creativity, things lead to other things: the latest Phyllis Wong novel, Phyllis Wong and the Vanishing Emeralds, centres around a portrait painted in the 1950s. Evert gave me some invaluable information about painting technique which became a cornerstone to the plot, and he’s also mentioned, along with Rembrandt, Turner and Picasso, in another of the Phyllis mysteries. He really is a master painter.”

Believe Then, if you Please, that I can do Strange Things by Evert Ploeg, and, below, the work in progress.

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