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The Dark Side: A portrait of Glenn McGrath

McGrath's portrait currently hangs in the Old Library in the Lord's Pavilion
McGrath's portrait currently hangs in the Old Library in the Lord's Pavilion

Justin Mortimer is one of nine artists commissioned by the Arts and Library Committee as part of the Lord's Portrait Project to enhance the series of paintings in MCC's Collections.

These new acquisitions all tend to reveal a personal as well as a professional side to the sitter and Mortimer's portrait of Glenn McGrath is no exception.

McGrath is regarded as one of the greatest fast bowlers of his generation, he became the first Australian paceman to play 100 Tests and only the second in the world to reach 500 Test wickets.

His final career tally of 563 Test wickets is the fourth highest in Test history.

Mortimer's portrait has captured McGrath in a reflective mood. Towards the end of his career, McGrath suffered a serious ankle injury and in 2008 lost his wife to breast cancer. Wearing his wedding ring and surrounded by darkness, McGrath gazes out beyond the borders of the canvas. According to Mortimer, the space is 'for the memories' and the strong shadow behind the form 'hints at another presence'.

In this painting, there is a sense of loss and heartbreak, a reminder that this national hero is 'just a man'.

Mortimer often addresses themes of pain, solitude and fragility in his work, putting particular emphasis on the relationship between the human body and its surrounding space. By placing McGrath in the lower-right corner of the painting, cut-off by the edge of the canvas, the artist plays with the idea of boundaries while creating a sense of vulnerability and disconnectedness.

This stark contrast between figure and ground intensifies the light that appears to emanate from around McGrath's cricket whites and gives the figure an otherworldly feel as though he is a man set apart by his actions. Mortimer reinforces this idea in the careful way he has structured his composition and the prominence he gives to McGrath's bowling arm, the means of his success. The eye passes down its length to where the base of the swivel chair forms a 'halo' around the hand.

This haunting presence, conjured up out of a mixture of the photographic and the painterly, is bound to provoke comment from members, players and visitors alike.

This article originally appeared in the MCC Magazine.

Honours Board Legend: Glenn McGrath

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