Tim Cahill’s portrait for Jeans for Genes

Tim Cahill’s portrait for Jeans for Genes

What happens when you’re commissioned to paint a portrait of Australia’s most famous footballer – then COVID-19 hits?! And it’s impossible to arrange a sitting even for a brief period?

How do you do justice to an artwork like this? That’s the predicament I found myself in recently. 

Painting during a pandemic already has its challenges. And painting an artwork that’s likely to be scrutinised by many adds another layer of complexity.

Press play on the video below.

Portrait of Tim Cahill

I have the honour of painting a portrait of Tim Cahill, former professional footballer and all-time leading goalscorer for Australia. He’s also the first Australian to score at a FIFA World Cup and at an AFC Asian Cup. After playing in high profile teams in the UK, US and Asia, Tim is now still heavily involved in the game, is an author of multiple books and has a diverse range of business interests. 

When you’re asked to paint someone’s portrait during COVID-19, it’s impossible to organise a sitting. So I want to thank leading photographer Adrian Cook for allowing me to use an image he took of Tim as my “sitter”.

Using a photograph in lieu of a person is a great start but it doesn’t allow you the opportunity to get to know your subject.

So I was grateful that Tim has already penned his autobiography, Legacy. It was an inspiring read and helped me get a real sense of his values, what drives him and what he wants his impact on the world to be. I printed out inspiring quotes from the book to pin on the walls of my studio while creating the artwork. I wanted the sentiment in his messages of “Don’t let fear hold you back” and “Barriers are made to be broken” to come through in the piece. ⁠

A story on his sleeve

While Tim has become a successful, high profile sportsman, he had very humble beginnings – so I wanted to capture the raw, gritty background that made him the person he is. 

A proud Australian, he’s also honoured his Samoan heritage on his tattoo sleeve where each mark tells a story about his life so I felt it was important to feature that in the portrait.

Jeans for Genes 

The portrait is for Jeans for Genes Day, a major event on the calendar of the Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney.⁠

In this annual event, high profile individuals donate a pair of signed jeans. In the past, jeans have been donated from people like Cameron Diaz, Keith Urban, Jack Nicholson, Shane Warne, William Shatner, Chris Pine, Janet Jackson, to name a few.⁠

Each pair of jeans is then incorporated into an artwork created by an artist – and the artwork is then auctioned to raise money for the wonderful work at the Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney. 

Tim has donated his signed jeans. And I have the honour and privilege to create the artwork which will be beautifully framed by the wonderful professionals at www.framinglife.com.au.

You can bid on the artwork here. You have until Saturday 20 June 2020.

Infused with inspiration

I wanted the piece to be more than a likeness of Tim. I wanted it to be fuelled with meaning. As a start, I printed out inspiring quotes from the book to pin on the walls of my studio while creating the artwork. And, ultimately, through the motifs, I wanted the sentiment in his messages of “Don’t let fear hold you back” and “Barriers are made to be broken” to come through in the piece. 

I really connected with Tim’s story partly because I understood where he grew up. I went to high school in Hurstville and he went to Kingsgrove North High School in the neighbouring suburb. Even though Tim is now a successful former footballer and businessman, he had humble beginnings. So I really wanted to capture that gritty look in this portrait. I also chose red to symbolise strength and blue, as a symbol of loyalty, because he’s stayed true to his roots and honours the support that his parents and siblings made to help his career.⁠

Eagle eyes will know that the traditional black pentagon surrounded by white hexagons is reversed in these motifs because I wanted to bring to the fore aspects of Tim’s life that are beyond what people usually see with football.

On the left of the artwork, I also wanted to echo the markings of his tattoo with imagery revealing more about Tim than what most people know about: that his mother grew up in a  taro plantation, that his brother gave up school to work as a mechanic to help fund Tim’s dream as a footballer, and so on. Every motif has a story behind it.

They are stories of determination, single-mindedness, self-belief and the power of family.

Most of all, I wanted it to be underpinned by Tim’s philosophy towards children and his desire for them to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be loved. It’s also about his desire to leave a legacy on the world: a desire not driven by ego but by a heartfelt passion to lift up those who need someone to believe in them.

Tim says: “Your job is to find that kid who always stands at the back, uncertain and shy, and make her want to take her place at the front the next day.”


Artist Valerie Khoo painting Tim Cahill's portrait
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