Archibald entrant shows age is no limit to creativity and passion

Archibald entrant shows age is no limit to creativity and passion

An eighty-seven year old resident of a northern beaches retirement village is a surprise entrant in this year’s Archibald Prize for art.

Phil Mulray was persuaded by his father to pursue a career in architecture and not painting as the Australian art market was flooded by commercial art from America during the post war years.

While he had a highly successful career as an architect, including working with those who were producing drawings for the Sydney Opera House and working overseas, Mr Mulray had an unfulfilled passion for the brush and canvas.

Recently his hunger for painting was reignited, convincing former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to be his subject for an entry into Australia’s most prized art competition.

The portrait of Mr Abbott is a result of eight month’s work and several sittings with the former PM: a few at Mr Abbott’s home and the other at Mr Mulray’s studio at Wesley Mission’s WG Taylor Village at North Narrabeen.

Mr Mulray admits that his new found love of oil painting came with the support of his wife, Yvonne, and staff and friends at Wesley Taylor Village. He has found new purpose and a fresh outlook on life.

“It’s another dimension on life,” he said. “It was exciting, exhausting and stressful. My wife thought it was a great stimulus to see me motivated and activated.”

He admits his first sitting with Mr Abbott was a “fast learning curve” and his original drawings of the former PM were not up to scratch. “I knew I could do better,” he quipped. “But I felt some pressure and an obligation to honour this (the portrait). He went back to art classes, got advice and developed an empathy with his subject.

“Affinities of sport, tertiary education. the water, surfing, made a natural line of communication,” Mr Mulray said.

The final product was unveiled in Mr Abbott’s electorate office before it was transported to the NSW Art Gallery for judging.

“The climax was to see Tony Abbott’s response,” Mr Mulray said. “He looked at the painting for a minute to a minute and a half. He turned to me and said: ‘Phil you have done very well’.  It was a genuine personal, sincere comment. I was thrilled. It was a great moment and a great feeling.”

The portrait was also displayed at Wesley Taylor Village. “The feedback was universally favourable,” he said.

The CEO of Wesley Mission, the Rev Dr Keith Garner said Wesley Mission was delighted with Mr Mulray’s entry and was a practical demonstration of how painting engages older Australians.

“For all of us, exercising the brain is as important to keeping the brain alert and strong as physical exercise is vital to keeping the body strong,” Dr Garner said.

“Painting gives people a sense of worth and contribution; creating gives people a more positive outlook on life, and negates depression and promotes esteem and worth. The power is in the art making process, in how the artist engages with the art being made.

“People can make a creative contribution to the world at any stage of life. It is an encouragement to each of us.”

Mr Mulray’s association with Wesley Mission began in 1964 when he worked on sketches and architectural drawings for the refurbishment of Wesley Mission’s iconic Lyceum Theatre after a major fire destroyed its interior.

(Pictured) Phil and Yvonne Mulray with Phil’s Archibald entry portrait of Tony Abbott.

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