Mertim Gokalp’s The Red Shoe portrait of actor Simon Burke.

Actor Simon Burke’s return to his role of Tom Allen in Foxtel’s new mini-series Devil’s Playground, a follow-up to Fred Schepisi’s 1976 film The Devil’s Playground, has inspired Sydney-based Turkish artist Mertim Gokalp’sThe Red Shoe portrait of Burke, which has been chosen as a semifinalist in the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

“I got an email from a friend of a friend who told me about Mertim. He was an Archibald finalist in 2013 with his portrait of Billie Brown. We met, talked and decided we might want to work together, which is an odd thing to say when all I had to do was sit on my haunches,” laughs Burke.

“I was post-production with Devil’s Playground. Mertim was fascinated by the project. He went away and watched the original movie,” reveals Burke. “So, when he came to me and said this is what I want you to do. ‘Put these wings on and be naked’ there is a certain leap of faith with people. I am the sort of person who likes to take a risk and likes to go with people’s ideas because I like people to go with mine, so I embraced it and trusted him.”

`Provocative' painting: actor Simon Burke.`Provocative’ painting: actor Simon Burke.

Burke admits he was confronted when he first saw the completed artwork. And not because he was naked – he did have undies on when posing, Burke would like everyone to know.

“I think it’s confronting to see someone paint you pretty well,” says Burke. “We had four-five sittings of a few hours. The process is fascinating because you talk a bit, then you don’t. You start to think, what the hell am I doing here? And then you get a bit excited about it all.

“I wasn’t allowed to see it until it was completed. When he unveiled it for me, it was quite a powerful moment,” he adds.

But what does it all mean?

“Mertim is very reticent to talk about ‘meaning’ but when I look at it, I feel an interesting resonance with this Foxtel project and the original movie,” admits Burke. “There’s theDevil’s Playground and a ‘fallen angel’ thing. I think there’s something to do with the boy becoming a man, thinking back and trying to be good! I don’t know how deeply I should go into this. I don’t know if that’s what was going on in Mertim’s head because he won’t tell me.

“It’s a very provocative painting and it’s hard for me to know what other people think of it because it’s me looking at myself. I find it quite challenging to look at,” says Burke.

Will The Red Shoe find a permanent space at Chez Burke?

“I don’t know. The painting is huge! It’s life-size, maybe bigger,” he laughs. “I hope someone nice and kind buys it.”

Source: SMH September 6, 2014, Monique Butterworth