The portrait of one of Australia's most colourful gallery owners and art dealers, Ray Hughes, above, by Chinese artist Jun Chen, was runner up this year . It was the second time Chen had represented Hughes in the Archibald Prize , the first in 2009 selected as a finalist . Chen decided to paint another portrait of Hughes after attending his 70th birthday last year , Ray, unwell , in a wheelchair.
From various sources , including Magnetic Island , North Queensland , I have collected ephemera and anecdotes about Hughes relating to his early days as a gallery owner in Brisbane , with political friends who went on to become prominent in federal and state governments.
Typical of Ray's flair and audacity is the invitation on a Robin Hood tobacco packet to an exhibition by sculptor , artist and print maker Tony Coleing at his second Brisbane gallery , Enoggera Terrace , Red Hill, in the 1970s. It matched the style of works by Coleing , spread over almost half a century , said to be infused with humour and a satirical cutting edge . He represented Australia at the 1980 Venice Biennnale , is in the collections of several leading Australian galleries , Te Papa Museum in New Zealand and the British Museum .
From the same period are two items of ephemera , above , for painter and teacher Roy Churcher , husband of the late "Betty Blockbuster " Churcher , prominent Australian arts administrator, director of the National Gallery of Australia, an early art critic for The Australian .The Churchers ran a studio in Brisbane .
The top item is a simple invite to Roy Churcher's notes from Europe and a display card for recent Roy Churcher paintings stamped l978 .
The Australian Financial Review ran an interesting interview with Hughes in April 2014 , conducted in a fancy Sydney restaurant , Beppi's , written by Katrina Strickland . During the lively exchange , Hughes , then 67, recalled his early start in the art world in Brisbane in 1969 , his later move to Sydney in 1985 where he took over the stock and gallery of Rudy Komon . His son , Ewan , who had read Art History at Cambridge and had worked at the Mayor Gallery in London joined him in Sydney .
In Brisbane, Ray had been in a Young Labor branch along with Wayne Swan , Peter Beattie , Steve Stockwell and Arch Bevis . Also discussed during the long, fluid luncheon , which started with a Henschke grenache , were his two ex-wives ( one of whom later addressed him as Mr Red Pants) and leading figures in the art world .
The paper reported that Hughes made this profound statement about expensive Grange wine : "Grange is something knuckleheads give to knuckleheads ." It was about three hours after the NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, a friend of his , had resigned over failure to record the fact that he had been given a $3000 bottle of Grange, saying he had no memory of receiving the gift .
Asked what makes a real artist , Hughes , after a long pause, replied : “Addiction." So who had it? “Freddie Williams had it. [Ian] Fairweather must have had it to live in a funny old shack and get a cab driver to take his pictures down to Brisbane. At his very best, Bill Robinson had it. He was mystified by the landscape, you could see him tripping over himself trying to find something."The article included the following artistic photograph of Hughes by Louise Kennerley
Ray had been Jun Chen's art dealer for many years and together they had travelled to China , Hughes introducing contemporary Chinese artists to Australia as a result .
Stored away on Magnetic Island is said to be an unusual piece of pottery-a goblet-on which the ebullient art dealer's head is one of three on the base .