Richard Bell – the subject of Mike Chavez’s portrait – is an acclaimed and controversial Aboriginal artist. A finalist in the 2004 Archibald Prize, he sifts complex issues relating to the experience of Australia’s Indigenous people in his no-holds-barred work, often encapsulating his ideas in a few pithy words that he has compared to 30-second sound bites.
“To me, Richard Bell – activist, philosopher, intellectual, elder statesman, “cultural terrorist” and self-proclaimed ‘gangsta rapper of Australian art’– is an obvious choice for an Archibald portrait,” says Mike Chavez. “His ‘stick it to the Man’ ethic inspires my own practice. I admire him, I relate to him and I look up to him as a role model.”
Chavez had only met Bell a couple of times prior to doing his portrait and was “stoked” that he agreed. In January he flew to Brisbane and spent a day hanging out with Bell. “We had lunch, chilled at the studio and listened to Snoop and Dre as Richard morphed into his Black Superhero persona whose special power is that he’s ‘irresistible to white chicks,’” says Chavez, “I captured this image in one sitting, fists raised, challenging all-comers to bring it on. Wearing a black T-shirt with obligatory bling, he is the outspoken, larger-than-life, bold, brash, bar brawlin’, N.W.A. lovin’, Notorious B.E.L.L. – or to those who know him, Richard Bell the performer.
“It seemed natural to contrast the contemporary mixed media approach with an old-school chiaroscuro effect. The collision of hip-hop meets old masters is like Richard Bell himself – a juxtaposition of sensitive artist and bad ass muthaf***a.”
Born in Manila in the Philippines in 1969, Chavez is now based in Melbourne. He studied at the Queensland College of Art. A former animator who has worked on films for Disney, Warner Brothers and Dreamworks, he is now a fulltime artist and has exhibited in solo, group and juried exhibitions across Australia since 2004. He was a finalist in the 2008 Fleurieu Art Prize and the 2007 Prometheus Award. This is his first time in the Archibald Prize.