The Songstress and the Dauber

‘I love Angus like a blood brother…’

She was doing it tough, was Abbe May. The Bunbury born singer was in trouble. Mid tour, the musician had, in her own words, ‘…a stress seizure…I went from being high functioning, calm, collected, creative, optimistic and athletic to lethargic, depressed, anxious and easily panicked.’ It hit her for six, instituting unwelcome changes, not only mentally, but physically as well. She made it through, but it took courage, the support of family, a loving partner – and Angus.

Angus McDonald, a painter residing in NSW’s stunning far northern coastline township of Lennox Head, has been plying his calling successfully for over two decades now. As an artist, he states he ‘…continually seek(s) to understand more about the world through …(his) art than I already know and use that to build a story of my practice.’


It’s no accident that his capturing of Abbe, for canvas, has gained nearly as much publicity as the magnificent painting of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill in this year’s lead-up to the Archibald Awards. Travel through the ether to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ website and check out the 2015 finalists – see which entrants take your eye. The Caton certainly did mine – we are probably attracted to figures we know – and it won the Packing Room Prize. But second to that it was McDonald’s take on Ms May. What a searing, revealing portrait.


Now, despite my pride in being reasonably up to date with today’s music, I’d only vaguely heard of Abbe May – proving I am perhaps deluding myself that I am in touch. But that is beside the point. Reading the singer’s back story on-line of what went awry in her world around the same time as she sat for the artist, it is easy to see that her recent struggles are reflected in his portrait.

Abbe’s affliction had seen her being admitted to hospital on several occasions as her immune system broke down. During this period she struggled to leave her house for any reason. Making eye-contact, at times, with others was beyond her.

Yet there is far more to the end-product that McDonald presented to the Archibald judges than her bout of mental illness – it doesn’t, by any means, define the picture. The singer tells ‘…, his insight and talent allowed him to see what I was feeling at the time…,I don’t find this portrait confronting…A friend could still see me and want to celebrate me. It shows in his portrait and I am eternally grateful.’


I wanted to discover exactly why McDonald chose her as a subject or whether it was the reverse that applied. I was unable to ascertain that information although May describes him as a friend, as well as one of her favourite artists. She also relates that he appeared in her life just at the right time.

The painting moved me the first time I laid eyes on it on that web page. Reading its provenance only increases it specialness. At a time when the funding of the Arts is under threat due to the machination’s of one of Abbott’s ministers – a problem when a peon gets hold of the purse strings – the painting is a reminder of the power of art. It points to how it is so essential to have a vibrant cultural hub at the heart of any civilised nation. It is so vital to our communal health and well being, just as Angus’ rendering of her was to Abbe May’s.

Angus McDonald website =

Abbe May website =

Abbe May YouTube =

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