Imagine getting your portrait painted for this years' Archibald Prize. That's exactly what has happened to Lighthouse founder and director, Susan Barton AM. As a dear friend of ours, we are happy to spread the news too. Susan has sat for Melbourne artist Fedor Dokumentov in the hope that it will bring further awareness and change to youth homelessness.
If you haven't heard of Lighthouses' incredible work, then you'd be unaware of how much they have helped and what an incredible organisation they are. In fact they have directly changed the lives of more than 1,100 children in their care. It's hard to comprehend that in Australia we have such a growing issue as youth homelessness, therefor are so grateful of the tireless work that Lighthouse and Susan have done over the past 30 years.
You can help by showing your support to Lighthouse in more than one way. Click here to read more about Lighthouse Foundation's mission.
Interview with Susan Barton
How did this portrait come about?
Lighthouse is grounded in volunteerism (we receive no recurrent funding) and community/philanthropy fundraising. I believe that children don’t heal in systems, rather in communities. We call it community/corporate parenting of our vulnerable children and young people in out-of-home care. When someone in the community steps up to ask how they can help, that is where the magic starts to happen. We build our community up around these kids. Fedor offered to support in any way he could, and so I started asking questions about him and his life. I learned that he is a foster carer, and cares enormously about helping our young people. I realised that his passion was painting, and I like people to come into our fold doing something they love, and then they often stay long term, and become part of the fabric of Lighthouse. This is so important for our young people - to have a loyal community that has their backs. So when I realised Fedor’s grand love and talent was painting, I wondered how that would match Lighthouse’s need for PR. Of course although not a painter myself, I am a passionate follower of the Archibald Art Exhibition. So, I wondered if that would support Fedor’s passion and support his painting, if he did a portrait for Lighthouse. And we decided it would be best painting me.
Have you sat for a portrait before? No.
What has this process been like?
Yes I sat for the portrait, which was a fairly silent process, and I think in the silence you can feel the essence of each other, the vulnerability. I imagined what it was like to leave your country of birth and come to Australia and have to begin again, often having to leave your talents and skills, to make a living. I think I was in a state of compassion and awe at Fedor’s tenacity, gentleness, warmth and thoughtfulness in caring for me during the experience. I sat for long hours while Fedor painted me. Lucky I like meditating.
How does it feel to be honoured in this way?
Gosh, I just hope that it honours Fedor and shines a light on him, so that he can live more in his passion to earn a living. He is such a talented artist – trained internationally and with years of experience. I thought a lot about our vulnerable young people and like Fedor have had to leave home and re-establish a new home and make new connections, and I know the trauma of that. As for me, I realised I am not going to like being in the “light” in this process, however I will always do whatever I need to do for Lighthouse to reach as many vulnerable children and young people it can - to end youth homelessness. We should never have homelessness in this lucky country. It saddens me to the core, which comes through in Fedor’s painting of me. I am saddened that we as a civil society don’t have a policy and a will to end homelessness. So hopefully this painting shines a light on the blight of child homelessness, bringing it back into the spotlight. In his painting, the background shows a darkness moving with hope into the light. That was very intentional by him.
Are you hoping the painting will help raise more awareness about Lighthouse Foundation and the plight of youth homelessness?
Absolutely. Although I think painting me might be the weak link in the process, because I am known within the child protection sector, but perhaps not to the wider public. But any PR that shines a light on the amazing work the team at Lighthouse does and that brings attention to homelessness will help. To be the messenger for these courageous young children and young people is a privilege for everyone at Lighthouse.
Is there any message you’d like to pass on to Fedor about him choosing you to be his subject for the Archibald?
I want to say how grateful and honoured I am. Here he is, doing something for Lighthouse to make the lives of these vulnerable kids noticed and let them know they matter and we care. I am deeply grateful for his generosity and good heart.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The title, ‘Light Prevails’, comes from Gandhi’s quote ‘in the midst of darkness, lights persists’. This recognises and honours our young people who have experienced the darkness, neglect and suffering, and had the courage and determination to keep looking for and embracing the light. We will continue to help them find their own light, and shine.
Interview with Fedor Dokumentov
How did you hear about Lighthouse/Susan?
I first learned about the Lighthouse Foundation through my partner, who works there. She told me about the noble work they do for disadvantaged children and the role of Susan Barton as a founder. When I met Susan, I immediately saw her passion for helping children find support - this is tremendously important for them to find their way through life. My partner and I are also foster carers.
How did this portrait come about?
I am passionate about painting – I’ve been doing it since I was a boy. I studied at the Design Academy in St. Petersburg for 6 years where I learnt to paint. I have been working to refine this over the years. Recently I set out a goal of expanding my portrait capability. When my partner suggested painting Susan to shed light on the important work of the Lighthouse Foundation, I was happy to try. The Archibald is one of Australia’s most prestigious art awards, and certainly the best-know portrait competition, so it seemed like the perfect fit. I found the idea of painting Susan an exciting challenge, so we organised a meeting with Susan and set up the first sitting.
What inspired you to choose Susan for your submission to the Archibald?
Susan Barton is an exceptional person. Her kindness and compassion are inspiring, and she has helped many children and their carers around Australia. Her effort and achievements were recognised by many awards, one of them is Member of the Order of Australia. Painting her is an honour for me.
How would you describe the portrait?
The portrait is painted in a realistic manner with a flavour of romanticism. The background is symbolic – the left-hand side is dark and stormy, representing the challenges and dark times that homeless young people face, while the right-hand side represents the prospect of a brighter future. This is what the Lighthouse Foundation and Susan give all their energy for. I am nervous, but also excited, about displaying the portrait at Lighthouse’s Youth Resource Hub before it is submitted to the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW.
Is there anything specific you hope to achieve with your portrait?
My main goal is to promote the work that the Lighthouse Foundation and Susan are doing. They have helped more than 1000 young people – this is a huge achievement. But I also know there are many more children to help – this is one of the ways I can contribute to that.
Have you submitted to the Archibald previously? If not, why now and with this subject?
This is the first time I have entered the Archibald competition. I think it’s a great opportunity to challenge myself and learn even more about painting, and as mentioned, it’s an honour for me to have Susan as a model. I’ve posted a few photos of the work in progress on my Instagram account, so everyone can see the process.
What do you think of the work Lighthouse/Susan does, and how important it is?
I think they do very important work helping vulnerable children to step on the right track, find the bright side of life and contribute positively to the world in their own special way. I appreciate the way Lighthouse sets up family-style homes, providing the love and care that these children would otherwise miss out on. This impacts not just them, but everyone around them and their own children if they have them in the future.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The name ‘Light Prevails’ derives from a Gandhi quote and is based in the belief that people are good in their core and light will always win in the battle with darkness, and this belief helps to overcome hard times. It's not only about hope but also the hard work of making lives better. I join with Lighthouse in hoping for an end to youth homelessness.