By 1945, William Dobell had become what so many artists desire but few in Australia had achieved. He was a household name. But the most famous artist in the land was a broken man.
His Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Joshua Smith became the subject of a sensational legal case, challenging not just Dobell’s right to the prize, but the very idea of art itself. Dobell won the legal battle but lost so much else. His health was shattered, his desire to paint was wiped out, and his zest for life had been dulled. He had to get away.
Only 120 kilometres north of Sydney, Wangi Wangi is far removed from big city life. Dobell had come to Wangi to escape fame, but he found community and friendship. In this beguiling little place, William Dobell rediscovered the passion to paint, and the joy of life.
Through years of research and interviews with Dobell’s friends and long-time locals, acclaimed author and former Wangi resident Scott Bevan discovered how the village protected the artist, cared and posed for him, drank and partied with him. Wangi loved him as one of their own. To the world, he was Sir William Dobell, acclaimed artist. To Wangi, he was simply Bill.
Bill is the story of one of Australia’s greatest artists and the times he lived through. It explores how ambition and talent took a working class boy a long way in the world, and how the reaction to one painting almost destroyed him. It is a celebration of community, and how one man finally discovers where he belongs – in the unlikeliest of places.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
Scott Bevan was a terrific foreign correspondent for the ABC, and is currently an anchor of ABC News 24. Somehow he’s found the time to write a thoughtful, lyrical, sensitive portrait of a shy man catapulted to notoriety by his Archibald-winning portrait of a friend. It’s a truly fascinating tale about fame, controversy and art wars that seems almost incredible today. How could one portrait divide a nation and lead to a court case? Just what distinguishes a portrait from a caricature?
Bevan provides many fresh insights, quotes many sources and really delves into the personality of Dobell, a man who kept much of his inner life private, as people did in those days.
A revealing but respectful portrait.
About the Author
Scott Bevan is an author, journalist and playwright. He has worked extensively as a producer and reporter for the ABC, Nine Network Australia and National Geographic Television and Film. He is the author of three critically acclaimed books: The Hunter, Battle Lines: Australian Artists at War and Water From The Moon: A Biography of John Fawcett. His documentary work includes Oll: The Life & Art of Margaret Olley and The Hunter.