Adam Cullen

A Stranger is a Friend you haven't met yet, 2002
acrylic on canvas
152.4 x 91.5 cm
signed, dated & inscribed with title (on the reverse)

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Yuill/Crowley, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney

Adam Cullen’s work has been variously described as drawing on equal parts narcotic intensity and melancholic empathy. In this image a well-meaning if not overly cheerful sentiment, ‘a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet’ encounters a down at heels Cullen character.

The figure, paleolithic in stature and rendered in powerful, gestural black line and bold colouration seems fragile beyond his striking mantel. With face upturned and right shoulder leading as he dissipates below the waist, the tightly framed composition is filled with the suggestion of Ascension.

In paint, the artist has been committed to subjects of pathos, drawing on the peculiar internalisations of life lived, people observed and conversations had. Wayne Tunnicliffe has identified, in Cullen’s work, a state of frayed humanity, ‘a humanity that is to be found in failed endeavours, misunderstandings and missed connections’ (Wayne Tunnicliffe, 2008).

This image gives a fine example of Cullen’s reduced but powerful visual language, where graphic lines are coupled with expressive pours of paint in his own manner of stripping away all but the essence of the people and creatures he portrays.

'Cullen’s visual language and references are relentlessly local, even parochial, as his work encapsulates a particular experience of contemporary Australian life. Our pride in being a ‘young nation’, our admiration for the antihero, our obsession with the vernacular and our insistence on doing it our way, can also leave us trapped in a perpetual and self-consciously puerile adolescence.'

(AGNSW Handbook 2006)

  • A Stranger is a Friend you haven't met yet

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Adam Cullen was a unique figure in contemporary Australian art. His expressive paintings present a confronting view of urban and suburban life and a thread of social commentary runs throughout his oeuvre. Cullen's instantly recognisable visual language is always built around direct and instinctual depictions of scenes and character portraits that arose from his local surroundings. His work is laced with humour and vigour counterpoised by pathos and relentless honesty.

Cullen graduated from the City Art Institute, Sydney with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986, a Diploma of Professional Art Studies in 1987 and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales, Sydney in 1999. In 2008 the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney presented a survey of Cullen's painting and sculpture from 1990 titled 'Let's get lost' and, in 2002 Cullen represented Australia at the 25th Biennale de Sao Paulo, Brazil. Cullen was awarded the Archibald Prize for his portrait of actor David Wenham in 2000. The artist's estate is represented by Gallery Ecosse, Exeter, New South Wales.