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Father Bob goes under the hammer

Gina Fairley

Street artist Luke Cornish hits the secondary market with Archibald entry going under the hammer at Bonham’s this month.
Father Bob goes under the hammer

Detail of Cornish's portrait of Father Bob soon to face auction. 

Luke Cornish (also known as E.L.K.) is known for his aerosol / stencil works, a fame that became him as the first street artist to be a finalist of the Archibald Prize. It was his painting of Father Bob Maguire (2012) that did it, a rather gruff portrait of a man who has become legendary in Melbourne for his controversial views and community advocacy.

Cornish has put the painting up for auction at Bonham’s sale of Important Australian Art to be held in the Sydney suburb of Paddington on 25 November. Bonham’s have placed an estimate of $20,000 – 30,000 on Lot 32, and all eyes will be on Cornish’s painting as it represents a shift in the auction world as stenciling jostles with the crème of Australian art under the hammer. 

In a further twist, Cornish has announced that he will donate a portion of the sale to the Father Bob Maguire Foundation, which aims ‘to meet the needs of disenfranchised people of all colour, creed and socio-economic backgrounds’.

Cornish said, ‘I'll be completely honest, as Father Bob would like me to be. I'm riding the coat tales of the hugely successful documentary feature In Bob We Trust now showing at cinemas Australia wide.’

Cornish added, ‘I'm donating $10K of the money to the Father Bob Foundation, so auction seemed like the best avenue for sale, creates a nice background story for drumming up publicity etc.’

The painting Father Bob Maguire was first shown in Melbourne with Metro Gallery in the exhibition Not with it…, before its selection as a finalist for the 2012 Archibald Prize. Since its entry, and subsequent inclusion in the Prize’s touring exhibition to seven regional venues across NSW and VIC, Cornish’s image of Father Bob has become an icon itself.

Father Bob and Cornish at opening of Not with it... Source

‘I think the most important factor in art should be honesty, so my representation of Bob is as honest as possible to how I see him: cranky,’ Cornish told AGNSW.

He added, ‘The portrait is stencil art, made using spray paint and around 30 hand-cut stencils. Although it has its roots in street art, the technique itself has evolved to an almost hyper-real level.’

The process of making of the image, and Cornish’s interaction with Bob, was covered in a short film titled Me–We, short-listed for 2012 Tropfest.

It has been a big year for Cornish. His work was again selected as a finalist for the 2013 Sulman Prize with his painting trickle down effect; his portrait of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in May; he was awarded a 2013 Churchill Fellowship in July, which he will use to travel to Europe and the United States in early 2014, and he had a solo exhibition at Sydney’s Art Equity in August, Before Afghanistan, which portrayed anonymous soldiers sprayed on glass – both robust and fragile as a comment on conflict.

Father Bob Maguire is an outspoken Catholic priest from South Melbourne, who was forced to retire in 2012, when Cornish painted this work. Maguire established the Father Bob Maguire Foundation and is co-host of Triple J radio program Sunday night Safran with John Safran. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1989, a Centenary Medal in 2003 and was named Victorian of the Year in 2011.

It is a double win for Bonhams:  Lot 32 presents an artist clearly on the radar and with the proceeds going to a worthy cause it is should to draw strong bidding interest.

You can view the catalogue for the auction on-line. The auction will be held on 25 November at 7.30pm in Sydney.  

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.