The first time artist Julian Meagher painted former Socceroo, renowned commentator and activist Craig ‘Fozzy’ Foster’s portrait for the Archibald Prize, it didn’t make the shortlist. For months Julian would come home to the towering two-metre portrait of Fozzy staring back at him, and he decided he would continue to paint his portrait every year until it was a successful Archibald Prize finalist. Luckily, it only took one more attempt!
Julian and Fozzy have become great friends since meeting a few years ago, but that’s not the only reason Julian committed to the Archibald challenge. As an activist, Fozzy is a vocal advocate for many different human rights issues – from the erasure of First Nations history and the continued suffering of refugees in this country, to domestic abuse and climate change. ‘I want this guy to have a bigger microphone’, Julian recently said of Fozzy on the Betoota Advocate podcast. The challenge of getting his portrait into the Archibald was in solidarity with the human rights activism to which Fozzy has dedicated his profile, and to help raise greater awareness.
Over the last few years Fozzy has been involved in some massive global campaigns, notably the #SaveHakeem campaign, which successfully freed Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibi from a Thai prison in 2019. ‘Fozzy told me it was in the process of securing Hakeem’s safety in Australia when he realised he couldn’t just stop there’, says Julian. ‘He’s worked tirelessly ever since as an activist for equality and freedom, not just for refugees.’
It was around this time, when the pair first met that Fozzy started the #GameOver campaign, which calls to bring an end to offshore detention of over 400 refugees and asylum seekers indefinitely detained. Fozzy travelled to Port Moresby in October, 2019 to meet with refugees and people seeking asylum, and learned more of their horrific circumstances, and continues to advocate for their freedom and resettlement.
In his first attempt, Julian painted Fozzy on a large scale, staring directly at the viewer. It’s a powerful piece in size and intensity. This time, the portrait was much smaller, with Fozzy’s eyes painted closed, in what Julian describes on the Betoota Advocate podcast as a ‘way more poetic painting’.
‘It was [Julian’s] suggestion to paint me with my eyes closed’, says Fozzy. This artistic choice reflects a multitude of meanings – the collective amnesia and silence in Australia as we grapple with our dark history and present. But it also speaks to a moment of softness in a man tirelessly working for a better world.
‘Fozzy is a fighter—he couldn’t have made it so far in professional sport if he wasn’t—though incredibly soft and caring as well’, says Julian. ‘That’s why I painted him with his eyes closed, and his guard down. Even like this, he’s still looking out for everyone.’