Skip to main content

Hitting the canvas

Cite Magazine

Looking at Curtin Fine Arts graduate Abdul Abdullah’s CV is a daunting thing – chock-full of awards, residencies, grants and exhibitions dating back to when he was in his early twenties.

His work is now included in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Murdoch University, The Islamic Museum of Australia and The Bendigo Art Gallery. He has been selected as a finalist in the highly regarded Archibald competition in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Perhaps an unlikely combination, Abdul is not only a highly acclaimed painter but also a boxer. We talked with Abdul about paintings, perfect days and noses.


As a sixth-generation Australian and Malaysian Muslim, you call yourself ‘an outsider amongst outsiders’. Why? 

I was a misfit in a community of conservatives, who especially after 9/11 became what I would regard in the popular imagination as the ‘bad guys’. My entire community was marginalised and we were all backed into a corner where we were made to justify our religion, our colour and our names. Our loyalties were questioned and our allegiances were cast into doubt. My family members were attacked by strangers for what they wore. I may not have had much in common with what I felt was an overbearing, self righteous older generation of Muslims, but I sure had nothing in common with those who would seek to vilify us.


What is your favourite part of your Archibald finalist painting, ‘I wanted to paint him as a mountain’?

The face is always my favourite part to paint. That is why often I only paint the face. And the nose is what I enjoy painting the most. There is something really satisfying about the last few finishing marks on a nose; the marks that make it ‘pop’.

"I wanted to paint him as a mountain" by Abdul Abdullah
“I wanted to paint him as a mountain” by Abdul Abdullah

What does a normal day look like for you?

Usually I wake up around 10, and spend the morning replying to emails and doing research. After lunch I prepare my workspace for the evening’s work. Usually this consists of preparing the workspace, collecting supplies and doing admin. At 3:30 I go to boxing training, and then help out at the gym. I don’t compete anymore, but I like to keep fit and help out when I can. It keeps me grounded. I’ll have dinner at 8 and start getting really into it in the studio at about 9. I’ll be working consistently until about 3, and then I’ll go to bed.


What draws you to portraiture? 

People have always been the most interesting thing in the world to me. For me, everything else is secondary. That is not to say I am not interested in anything else, but rather, nothing fascinates me more than people.


What would be your perfect day?

This is hard. Waking up next to someone I love. Spending the day with people I love. Then maybe making the best piece of artwork I have ever made. Seeing a great movie. Seeing some great art. Going to sleep full, content and happy.

"The Man" by Abdul Abdullah

“The Man” by Abdul Abdullah

Do you think studying at Curtin helped you further your work as an artist? If so, what was your favourite aspect of the course?

I think Curtin is the only place that you can really study art in Western Australia. It definitely helped. Without those three years in undergrad I would be lost in the art world. I couldn’t say the course really makes you an artist, but the best things I remember about it were:

1. Having the time (three years) allocated to personal development.

2. Having the space for personal development (the studios – that are now only available to 3rd year, honours and postgrad students).

3. Most importantly having the opportunity to build a community and network of like-minded individuals who you will rely on, and who will rely on you when you head out into the big bad world.

4. On the rare occasion, meeting an older mentor who supports and encourages you, but also gives constructive criticism, helping you to become a better artist. In my time at Curtin that was Ted Snell.


Any advice for young artists?

 You have to back yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. Be the audience as much, or more, than you are an artist. Be interesting. Be interested. Be well informed. Think for yourself and be picky when taking advice. Most people in our industry are really nice, or at the very least have heaps of common interests, so don’t dismiss people too quickly. Remember people’s names; if for no other reason than being courteous.

Don’t be a snob. Have no fear. Have nothing to lose. This isn’t a profession for the weak-willed.



Share your thoughts on this story (comments are moderated in advance).

This story has 1 comment

  1. Andrea Mijac says:

    What an inspiring story! I am currently studying with Curtin online to achieve my BFA. Abdul’s portraits have great character and interest, perhaps that is why he is successful. Almost anyone can paint a portrait but not many capture the character of the sitter. Boxing is a great sport and its great to see Abdul is still helping out others even though he is not competing anymore. Great work and all the best for the future :). Andrea

Your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.