Craig Ruddy, Painter of Aboriginal Australians, Dies at 53 of Covid-19

BY SHANTI ESCALANTE-DE MATTEI

white man wearing hat
Craig Ruddy
INSTAGRAM

Craig Ruddy, an Australian artist known for his portraits of Aboriginal people, died at 53 on January 5 from complications related to Covid-19. Ruddy’s death was announced on his social media page.

“It is with the heaviest of tender hearts we let you know that last night Craig left his body peacefully at home in Robertos arms,” the post said, referring to Ruddy’s partner, Roberto Meza Mont. They lived together in their home in Byron Bay, near Brisbane. Ruddy also had a home in Buenos Aires.

Ruddy was born in Forestville, Sydney, in 1968 and pursued a career in design. He quit his position as a commercial art director in 2001 to pursue his passion for fine art.

Ruddy is perhaps best known for his portrait of David Gulpilil, an Indigenous Australian actor who starred in films like Walkabout (1971) and Charlie’s Country (2014). The painting, David Gulpilil, two worlds (2004), won Ruddy the Archibald Prize, an award for portraiture that is among the top art prizes in Australia.

“David is a man who crosses the lines that still divide two contrasting worlds,” Ruddy said in a 2004 statement about the portrait. “One is an infinite world of spiritual connection with the land and universe as a whole, and the other a materialistic conformation of western civilisation. Simplicities and complexities infiltrate both worlds and David seems to strike a balance.”

A fellow prize entrant, Tony Johansen, would end up suing Art Gallery of NSW, the museum that facilitates the award, claiming that Ruddy’s portrait did not count as a painting, since it was mostly done in charcoal. Eventually a judge threw out the complaint.

Ruddy and Gulpilil continued their friendship until Gulpilil’s death from lung cancer this past November. Ruddy painted Gulpilil’s portrait twice more throughout the years, submitting his portrait once more in 2019 for the Archibald Prize. Ruddy was a five-time finalist for the Archibald Prize, and he went on to paint portraits of Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton, Cathy Freeman, Bruce Pascoe, and himself.

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