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Adam Cullen relishes in his reputation as Australia’s enfant terrible. Hard living, offensive and crass to the bone, the man has tried to alienate himself from the mainstream since childhood. Ironically, it has not worked. The contemporary art scene embraced him. Critics laud his talent and perceptive interpretations. Collectors seek out major works and are proud to have confronting (yet colourful) works hanging in their homes. Cullen has even broken celebrity status with the general public. Brand ‘Cullen’ has been featured in every major broadsheet and the hotel that bears his name maintains a reputation as the place to stay and been seen in Melbourne.
The commercial and critical success Cullen enjoys did not happen overnight. Adam was exposed to art at an early age. His father, Max Cullen, a renowned Australian method actor, travelled his family extensively. At an early age, the artist was exposed to masterpieces in museums across Europe. Rather than finding inspiration in the impressionists or expressionists, the young Cullen was drawn to the Old Masters. Works by Goya and Caravaggio and the raw elements of human nature captured in their works excited and inspired him. He completed art school, and was awarded his Masters in Fine Art from the University of NSW. In 2007 he was granted a prestigious Australia Council residency in Barcelona.
Cullen uses allegory to provide incisive social commentary. Handsome horses, circus elephants, even filthy pigs reflect various elements of humanity. Keen collectors of his work seek out paintings featuring K-mart Hillbillies, men with antennae protruding from their head, $ sign t-shirts and religious alderman caught in compromising positions. More recently, Ned Kelly has excited followers of his work. Cullen executes his narrative skillfully in oil, enamel and acrylic and his ability as a painter has generated critical acclaim. In 2000, he won the Archibald Prize for his portrait of David Wenham and 8 years later was given a major survey show at the Art Gallery of NSW titled Let’s Get Lost.