High-vis brought low: Campbell Newman portrait reflects his 'penchant for action'

The painting, by Newman’s friend and former political rival David Hinchliffe, has drawn a range of reactions on Twitter

A portrait of Campbell Newman depicting the former Queensland premier in a construction safety vest and helmet, which is now adorning state parliament, has drawn mixed reactions.

The painting by Newman’s friend and former political rival David Hinchliffe was unveiled in a ceremony closed to the media in Brisbane on Thursday night.

The artist said it was an obvious nod to Newman’s defining characteristic, a penchant for action that meant he was “much happier out in the field on a construction site than he was sitting behind a desk in parliament”.

But he said the “extraordinary” and Shakespearean arc of Newman’s political career – from “king of city hall” in Brisbane, to leader of a state government with the biggest majority in western democracy, to then crash to defeat in a single term – had yet to be properly explained.

Hinchliffe, a former Labor councillor in Brisbane who worked closely with Newman while he was a highly popular lord mayor, said he “did not recognise” him for most of his deeply divisive reign as premier.

“He was a modern urban Liberal and, in Brisbane, Campbell could be Campbell,” he told Guardian Australia.

“But when he was conscripted by the LNP, which is heavily National party-dominated, very country-centric, and with the rise of some crazy types within the LNP who are hugely wedded to a very fundamentalist Christian and rightwing perspective, things changed.”

Hinchliffe said the notion of his subject in a “hi-vis vest and helmet” was his, and when he asked the former army engineer to bring some along for the sitting, Newman “liked the idea”.

“He said, ‘Where do you want me to sit?’ I said, ‘Campbell, you have not been made to sit still in your life. I think I’m reconciled to the fact that you’re going to be standing and moving around.’ And he did.

“Then there was one particular moment where, in his hi-vis vest, he was looking out the window and I said, ‘That’s it, stop. You’re looking at your next project.’ That was it: he was itching to get on to the next job, it was always the way he was.

“If I’d thought more about it, I would have had him almost half walking out of the frame – that was Campbell, the man constantly in motion.”

The portrait, to hang alongside those of Newman’s predecessors, including Anna Bligh and Joh Bjelke-Petersen, drew mixed reactions on Twitter.

Some saw shades of heroic realism in the Soviet vein.

Spectacular piece on @CampbellNewman by @HinchliffesArt @brisbanetimes almost had me in tears. Powerful, touching. https://t.co/Vs5qNR0LEX

— Spencer Howson (@SpencerHowson) March 2, 2017

One political foe conceded the portrait had a spellbinding quality.

He is a loathsome offensive brute but I cannot look away. #qldpol pic.twitter.com/NiCRcDvXkQ

— Steven Miles (@StevenJMiles) March 2, 2017

Others saw expressionism.

. @scouse_roar @bencubby @tegangeorge @tennewsqld pic.twitter.com/cxU4pO18q6

— Craig Platt (@LastLaughBlog) March 2, 2017

Others referred to a more recent popular portrait horror.

@tegangeorge @tennewsqld pic.twitter.com/tpIhNnzwTH

— #TVdeal #fixisin (@scouse_roar) March 2, 2017

The Greens senator for Tasmania, Nick McKim, perhaps unfamiliar with Newman’s long-held preference for blue shirts, made a dig at him “pretending to be a blue-collar worker”.

Just imagine Campbell Newman standing in an artist's studio for several hours pretending to be a blue collar worker. pic.twitter.com/Ljy5Oeg8a5

— Nick McKim (@NickMcKim) March 2, 2017

Others noted that the vest bore the Brisbane city council logo.

If you look closely on Campbell Newman's hi-vis you'll see the crest of Brisbane Council. It's penultimate FU to the Qld people. #qldpol pic.twitter.com/NT35FhDPLj

— David Marler (@Qldaah) March 2, 2017

The federal Labor MP Graham Perrett said this may be “an insider joke from the artist”.

@Qldaah or an insider joke from the artist.

— Graham Perrett (@GrahamPerrettMP) March 2, 2017

Hinchliffe said Newman’s frustration in state politics included the “diffuse” nature of power at the state level, as well as his lack of authority over more conservative forces in the LNP, despite leading the party to a “phenomenal” 87-to-seven seat victory over Labor in 2012.

“He was the king of city hall, no ifs, buts or maybes, whereas in parliament he had to bend a lot more to the right of the party,” Hinchliffe said.

“An example: he supports marriage equality and one of the first things they did was abandon the previous government’s very watered-down civil partnerships laws. I thought, where the hell is that coming from?

“No one’s really looked at how this bloke, who was so incredibly popular that they would draft him from down the road at city hall for them to have a chance and he gives them this phenomenal victory ... how could someone then lose this?

“The arc of his trajectory is just extraordinary. It needs to be explained.”


Joshua Robertson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman considering federal comeback
Newman, who retired from politics after his government’s shock 2015 defeat, sounded out by federal MPs about nominating for the seat of Brisbane

Joshua Robertson

10, Mar, 2016 @1:47 AM

Article image
Queensland election: bookies shorten odds Campbell Newman will lose seat
Liberal National party’s 2012 ‘decapitation’ strategy comes back to haunt premier

Joshua Robertson

07, Jan, 2015 @7:12 AM

Article image
Campbell Newman keeps focus on cost-cutting at LNP election campaign launch
Queensland premier promises a $1bn injection for schools at a campaign launch where the prime minister was absent

Bridie Jabour

18, Jan, 2015 @5:02 AM

Article image
Campbell Newman defamation case: taxpayers cover $525,000 payout
Exclusive: It is believed former Queensland premier and attorney general refused to publicly apologise, which could have reduced payout

Joshua Robertson

15, May, 2016 @8:01 PM

Article image
Queensland rejected hubris and unrestrained power when it rejected Campbell Newman | Mark Bahnisch
After Saturday’s historic election, the LNP must realise there is no going back to the dark days of crony capitalism and arrogance

Mark Bahnisch

02, Feb, 2015 @12:32 AM

Article image
Queensland election: Campbell Newman defends leadership style
Premier and opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk meet in debate on final day of campaign, as Newman maintains he is passionate, not arrogant

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent

30, Jan, 2015 @7:47 AM

Article image
What Campbell Newman did next: the making of an unlikely Queensland libertarian
The ousted premier is back on the campaign trail, running for a Senate seat. Can he catapult a niche party to national relevance?

Ben Smee

01, Oct, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
Campbell Newman cuts short regional campaign to defend his Brisbane seat
Queensland premier returns to capital for final days of election campaign after poll showed he was at risk of losing his seat of Ashgrove

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent

29, Jan, 2015 @9:21 AM

Article image
Queensland election: Campbell Newman forced to endorse transparency principles
Although the premier was declared the winner of the people’s forum on Friday night, he was pressured into agreeing to sign up to the Fitzgerald principles

Bridie Jabour

23, Jan, 2015 @11:32 PM

Article image
Campbell Newman says Tim Carmody appointment is his biggest regret
Former Queensland premier says making Carmody chief justice of the supreme court was a bad move politically but that he was right for the job

Melissa Davey

27, Sep, 2015 @3:00 AM