In 1958, at the age of 15, John Konrads broke all the freestyle swimming world records from 200 to 1500 metres. He represented Australia at the Olympic Games in 1956 in Melbourne, 1960 in Rome (where he won gold in the 1500m) and 1964 in Tokyo.
This portrait from the 2006 Archibald Prize is by Gillie and Marc Schattner, who are married to each other and work collaboratively as artists. They had initially wanted to paint the swimming great lying on the ocean until they learned from him that the most significant issue that he faced at the time was living with depression.
British prime minister Winston Churchill had referred to his own depression as his ‘black dog’ and John too always has the black dog of depression by his side. However, John told the artists that the most important thing was to paint him smiling because he wanted to appear positive.
Says Gillie: ‘The background of the portrait is quite splattered and random to signify the ups and downs of his bi-polar disorder. The use of metallic silver around the image symbolises a mirror because we wanted the image to reflect the way John sees himself. We have painted the black dog with sadness in his eyes because he wears the face of depression and allows John to wear the face of hope.’