Adam Frederick Cullen (9 October 1965 – 28 July 2012) was an Australian artist, most known for winning the Archibald Prize in 2000 with a portrait of actor David Wenham. He was also known for his controversial subjects or work. His style has at times been called by some critics as simplistic, crude, adolescent or puerile, though he has been voted one of Australia’s most collectible contemporary artists.
Cullen’s studio was located at Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. He had stated that he had painted to the music of punk bands such as the Meat Puppets, Black Flag and the Butthole Surfers. Cullen painted such things as dead cats, ‘bloodied’ kangaroos, headless women and punk men, many of which represent what he termed “Loserville”.
The artist used a highly personal visual language to address a broad range of topics including crime, masculinity and cowboy culture. He merged high and low cultural influences in works which are defined by their iridescent colours and bold gestural marks. His works combine irreverent humour with an astute sensitivity to society.
Adam Cullen was born in Sydney in 1965. He graduated from the City Art Institute with a Diploma of Professional Art in 1987 and received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New South Wales in 1999. He exhibited broadly in individual and group exhibitions both in Australia and overseas. In 2002 he represented Australia at the 25th São Paulo Art Biennial.He gained early fame at art school by dragging around a rotting pig’s head chained to his ankle. Cullen was well established as a Sydney ‘grunge’ artist when he won the prestigious Archibald Prize for his portrait of actor David Wenham in 2000.
As well his painting his grunge style entered the world of printmaking at Whaling Road Studios producing his first suite of etchings printed by Diana Davidson and Mark Rowden.
Association with criminal figures
Cullen often employed the image of infamous and iconic Australian bushranger Ned Kelly in his artwork. He also portrayed the killers of 1986 murder victim Anita Cobby, and illustrated the underworld figure and convicted criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read’s fairy tale book called Hooky the Cripple.
After winning the Archibald Prize, Cullen lodged a complaint with the ABC who had used his painting, Portrait of David Wenham, in a television commercial. Cullen argued that artists have the right to control how their images are used and asked that a fee of $67,500 be paid to him for them using it in this way, though it was negotiated that he would be paid $80 for it instead.
He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize again between 2001 and 2004, having also been in 1997 and 1999. In total he has entered the prize at least 9 times and been hung at least 8 times. He was interviewed in the 2005 Peter Berner documentary about the Archibald Prize called Loaded Brush.
He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2006 with his painting Edmund, depicting gallery director and art historian Edmund Capon, in 2011 and 2012.
Other prizes and honours
Cullen was exhibited in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize show of 2000-2001 with a portrait of comedian Mikey Robins. He was the winner of the Mosman Art Prize in 2005, having been a finalist in 2000.
In November 2009, the Cullen Hotel, named after the artist, opened in Melbourne.