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— Biography of Kristin Headlam

Kristin Headlam is a Melbourne based artist whose practice includes painting, drawing and printmaking within the genres of portraiture, landscape and still life.  Her work is informed by literature and narrative, politics and human nature, psychology and history. 

Originally from Launceston, Headlam lived in the UK and Thailans in the early 1980s after studies in arts and fine art at Melbourne University and the VCA. 

Throughout the 1990s her work was focused on landscape – chiefly the grand and cultivated gardens of the 19th Century English style.  These works were dramatic and mysterious, full of shadow and brushy-painted mistiness.  These became her first major series 'A Gardener at Midnight', closely followed by ‘The Sick Rose’ series which took William Blake’s poem as its literal subject. 

Photographs taken of wedding parties in Melbourne’s public parks then brought people into Headlam’s paintings, as well as a more literal sense of narrative, art-historical references and a potential reading of social satire.  This 'Public Park' series (also referred to as the bridal paintings) nodded to the 18th century conversationalist genre of Reynolds and Watteau and examined the ritual of marriage as both ridiculous and tragic, while retaining the sense of brooding romanticism for which Headlam had become well known.

After 2001 her focus shifted to world events and to capturing images of political life, the underworld, sports, and other – often humorous - oddities caught in the news cycle.  Towards the end of the decade Headlam, feeling satiated by the process of painting from photographs, began to regularly painting from life – people, houses, interiors, and her immediate home life, particularly her own garden. 

Having practiced printmaking alongside her painting throughout her entire career, in 2016 Headlam returned to it once again to undertake a major commission for Melbourne University.  The Universe Looks Down, a suite of 64 image and text etchings, paralleled the epic poem by Chris Wallace-Crabbe of the same title and was completed with master print-maker John Loane in Canberra.    

A skilled portrait painter, Headlam won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2000 and has completed numerous corporate and private portrait commissions throughout her career including of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and, posthumously, Sir William McPherson, 31st Premier of Victoria.  She works both from life and from photographs and has a particular talent for including pets.  Please contact the gallery to discuss further.

“For the most part in my paintings I’ve just wanted to say, “This is what I see: can you see it?” I have no interest in telling people what to think, or, indeed what I think.” The Artist, 2014

“Kristin Headlam is a mistress of the mise-en-scene; she teases the cultural imagination through paintings that are laden with social and art historical references.  The ‘presence of absence’… in the garden pictures gives them a seductive quality: dark shadows and brooding spaces seem pregnant with something other; it is here, in these secretive places, that our Gothic imagination can take flight”.  Anne Marsh, Kristin Headlam: Public Park - a gendered performance, Art and Australia, Vol 36, No 4, 1999

“Kristin Headlam’s previous exhibition, ‘The Gardener at Midnight’, concerned itself with the uncanny presence of absence.  The paintings did not simply mourn someone or something missing; they registered the feeling of a void pressing on us from beyond the visible.  This new exhibition [The Sick Rose] is equally unsettling, through in a different way.  You could say its subject is how corruption is folded into desire, but that would bring us only to the threshold of the paintings.  For, as always in Headlam’s work, the known is placed in relation to the unknowable. What is painted here is the darkness and secrecy of what Blake called ‘dark secret love’; and it is experienced by painter and viewer alike as a breakup of the settled and the trusted.” Kevin Hart, Kristin Headlam - A Gardener at Midnight: The Sick Rose, Charles Nodrum Gallery, 1996, exhibition catalogue essay

"[Headlam's] work always evokes a slightly unsettling note.  She creates a "knowable reality", frequently derived from a photographic source, into which she introduces an almost Balthus-like otherworldliness, while retaining the representation of a recognisable, everyday, even slightly banal existence.  Her paintings become displaced realities in which we encounter a number of different possible discourses… On one level, the paintings, both the oils and the lovely watery watercolour and ink drawings, present a literal commentary on public political life with all of its absurd and sinister implications… On occasion the irony is laced with a note of cruel satire…”  Sasha Grishin, Power to her people, Canberra Times, 17 July 2007


Kristin Headlam CV

Chris Wallace Crabbe Kistin Headlam Seasonal Adjustments Exhibition Essay 2011

Chris Wallace Crabbe Kristin Headlam Wryest Imaginings 2006

EBR Kristin Headlam Public Park Exhibition Essay 1999

Fiona Gruber The Portraiture of Kristin Headlam National Portrait Gallery Magazine Spring 2015

Jeff Makin Brave artist tackles footys heroes Herald Sun 4 August 03

Lisa Gorton Kristin Headlam The Universe Looks Down Catalogue Essay 2018

Liz Porter How Brendan Fevola went from devil to Botticelli angel The Age 27 August 2003

Sarah Engledow Kristin Headlam Explore The Popular Pet Show NPG 2016

Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.