Not buying into the standard bad boy artist BS, Acute Misfortune gets under the skin of one of Australia’s most notorious artists, Adam Cullen and in doing so succeeds in getting under your skin as well. Many know little about the painter and sculpture other than his winning the Archibald Prize after at least nine attempts. His portrait of actor David Wenham was a controversial choice back in 2000 and caused a divide in the Australian art scene.
The film is based on the respected biography of Cullen by Erik Jensen’s and both the book and movie probe the depths of the complexities and contradictions of this tortured soul. Jensen deserved combat pay as his time spent with the artist included him being shot, stabbed and pushed off the back of a moving motorcycle. He also spent enough time with Cullen to see below the facade.
Put into a larger context the film is also about family and the degree to which the relationship between parent and child can effect one’s behaviour for a lifetime. Cullen had many unresolved issues with both mother and father and this was reflected in his artwork. As was his relationships with women and his unresolved sexuality.
Cullen died in 2012 at the age of 46 when his body basically just gave up after years of drug and alcohol abuse. He left behind a body of work that is filled with as many contradictions as existed in his life. There are examples of his early work that are contemplative and beautiful, while later works filled with assertive chaos and raw anger. Like all great art they do well to mirror the events of his inner soul.