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Archibald Prize entry: "My Plague" by Julian Parker Welch

Wednesday 23 July 2014


From artist Julian Parker Welch (via email):


"My Plague" by Julian Parker Welch
"My Plague" by Julian Parker Welch
Oil on canvas, 120cm x 60cm
(Click for larger image)

I am a Sydney painter that recently did a piece for the Archibald Prize. I was not picked, which doesn't shock me or undermine my real reason for this piece.

Hopefully my explanation will give you a clear idea of what and who the painting is of.

The painting depicts two figures – in a pool of light at the foreground sits Professor Andrew Lloyd, Head of Infectious Disease at the University of New South Wales, and in the shadows at the back looms a Black Plague doctor from the 1400s.

This work has particular significance to me. For the last four years I have suffered from ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which is a severe functionally disabling neuro-immune illness.

I am plagued by more than 150 symptoms, each one disturbing and debilitating in themselves. Most strikingly, I experience chronic breathlessness and a severe inability to initiate swallowing. Every breath I take is a struggle that never satisfies my feeling of breathlessness. And every bite of food I eat, every sip of water I take, brings me to the brink of choking. Meals have become a hellish task to endure just to stay alive. Even in this 'advanced' day and age, the true cause of this terrible condition is not known. I have no drugs to alleviate my pain or to deal with my bone-crushing fatigue that makes lifting a finger a struggle at times.

There are still many doctors that do not believe this condition is a physical one, but dismiss it as a purely psychological problem. Although, as more and more cases of ME/CFS are publicised and legitimated, the number of these skeptical voices has decreased. I have chosen to paint Professor Andrew Lloyd to depict a highly esteemed doctor who understands that this condition is a very real and functionally disabling disease that it ruining not just my life, but millions more around the world.

The figure of the Plague Doctor represents those doctors who still do not recognise this disease; they are, in a way, turning back time on medical progress. Historically, the Plague Doctors had their own insulated beliefs in what caused illness and how to prevent it. But inevitably, the medical scientific truth would disprove many of their theories. I hope soon that I can be set free by the truth, along with the rest of the ME/CFS community, because this is not just my plague but our Plague.

And until that time I will truly suffer for my art in the most severe sense of the word.



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