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Gang-Gang, November 3, 2014
Ian Warden
Aesthete: The Phoenix Pub commissioned Stephen Harrison to paint portraits of famous Irish writers, including this one, of Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde Painting

Who is this vaguely familiar man, sitting, contemplating a beaker of Ireland's famous negri-beverage, in a boutique, Civic, Irish pub? Back to this solitary drinker in a moment. But first we note that Canberra sculptor Stephen Harrison, an awards-magnet, is enjoying the distinction of having one of his works accepted (and on display as we write) for the ultra-prestigious Sydney Sculpture By The Sea exhibition and prize. But he tells us that when at Bondi recently with his father and his sons, having just been to look at his work by the sea, their minds turned to home and to the Phoenix Pub in Civic.For while it's great to be in today's Sculpture By The Sea for over two decades, from when his sons were tiny, Harrison has been quietly accepting commissions to appropriately adorn the walls of the Phoenix with portraits of famous Irish writers. When, recently, the usual Phoenix premises in the Sydney Building were closed by a newsworthy fire (leaving the older, sealed-up for now Phoenix a bit singed), a new, temporary Phoenix arose (and we use that word advisedly) next door. All of the existing portraits survived (Harrison says "They got a bit of smoke damage but they've been dusted off") and are hanging now in the new, temporary Phoenix. Now he's been commissioned to paint some new portraits to accompany these survivors. Advertisement "So both venues are decorated with paintings of mine; commissioned work that began 20 years ago." He is feeling understandably nostalgic about all this long, long association with these two venues, especially since now Sam, one of the two sons (the other is Oscar) who first went there as a very young child is grown-up enough now to be about to perform at the risen Phoenix as a bass player with a band. "Ah, the circle of pub life!" Harrison, father of Sam, and of Oscar, muses. And of course the celebrity solitary drinker of our picture is that other Oscar, Oscar Wilde. Perhaps Wilde the aesthete, touring Canberra, has just been to Floriade. He has been so horrified by the vulgarity of it (remember, this is the man who chose to die rather than lie on his deathbed in a room with a wallpaper that offended him!) that he's hurried on to the Phoenix to use Guinness to try dull his nightmarish recollections of our flower festival.

Stephen Harrison paints Phoenix Pub's portrait gallery