Written by Rod McClure JP   
Tuesday, 04 January 2022 06:29
Vincent Fantauzzo: Drawing a life in pictures
Behind the celebrated career of one of Australia's most sought-after portrait painters
is a visual language "superpower" that lifted him out of poverty, one brush stroke at a time.

He has a stylish new art hotel named after him but was once so delinquent
that he carried a gun.
He is friends with a prime minister and world-famous celebrities,
but he left school at 13 barely able to read and write.

He wins national art prizes but was put in special education classes at school.
He is married to the actress Asher Keddie but once failed a simple test to get
a job in a factory.
They seem so glamorous — the famous actress and the acclaimed artist.
A golden couple.
As if life is always easy.

But for Vincent Fantauzzo there was shame, failure, so much struggle when he
was younger.
"I spent my life hiding and hustling, feeling ashamed, not being good enough,
not being smart enough and pretending to be someone I wasn't," he says.

Fantauzzo didn't know why he couldn't read like the other kids at school.
He worked harder than classmates practising his times tables, but couldn't remember them.
He would rather get kicked out of class than stand up and read aloud.

"You distract people and become the funny kid in class or the naughty kid.
I just thought I'm going to be so bad I'll get kicked out of school, and I'll have this reputation and I'll ride with that," he says.

He managed to get through his short time at school without reading one book.

"I honestly felt like I must be stupid. Why is everyone else able to do this and I'm not?," Fantauzzo says.

A photograph of a little boy Fantauzzo says he felt "stupid" as a student and was ignored as he sat in a special needs classroom. )
In fact, Fantauzzo was very far from stupid.
He is a gifted man with great intuition and empathy.
It is just that his brain is wired differently to other people.

It wasn't until Fantauzzo was in his 20s that he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia.

"You can be dyslexic with numbers and you're incredible with words and not numbers —
I got the jackpot, I got all of them," he says.

"And memory is such a big part of how dyslexia affects me."

It's a disability he even managed to hide from his family.

But what Fantauzzo could do was draw.

It was the one thing he could do. It was his way of communicating.

"It's all I've got," he says.

A portrait showing three different faces of actor Heath Ledger A portrait of Heath Ledger titled 'Heath' won the People's Choice in the 2008 Archibald Prize. 

'I met my person'
From the time Fantauzzo was a tiny child he would draw animals and cartoons.
He drew on everything.

"He did a lot of cartoons," his mother Rosaleen says.

"He would always draw murals on his walls and make it like you're looking into a castle or looking out of a wall."

Because it came so naturally, his art gave him a feeling of confidence.

"This was something I could do right," Fantauzzo says.
One enlightened teacher let him draw caricatures of the teachers.

He would become a portrait artist known for his 
award-winning portraits of people like actors Heath Ledger and Guy Pearce, chef Matt Moran and director Baz Luhrmann.

Love face: Vincent Fantauzzo's entry in the Archibald Prize 2013. Vincent Fantauzzo's entry in the 2013 Archibald Prize, Love Face, features Asher Keddie. 

Fantauzzo gets close, into the psyche of the people he paints.
But it was his soulful 
painting of Keddie that would change his life.

His memory problems stemming from his dyslexia make punctuality problematic. And because of this, he nearly missed his first meeting with Keddie.

He had asked his friend Moran if he knew the "hot" girl on TV. He wanted to paint her. She checked out his work and decided that if anyone was going to paint her, it would be him.

But Fantauzzo was characteristically late to the first meeting and Keddie wasn't going to hang around — she was busy filming for the television program Offspring and just wanted to get home to the country to her horses.

But as she was walking away, she spotted Fantauzzo.

"I saw this really kind of chaotic, crazy, incredibly gorgeous guy," Keddie says.

"I was walking towards him and I absolutely felt connected on a level I'd never felt connected to anybody in my life.

"No words had been spoken, nothing. I was just drawn to him and I could feel the same coming from him."

Fantauzzo agrees.

"I had just met my person. We were pretty much together after that."

The pair married in April 2014. Fantauzzo already had a son, Luca, now aged 9, from an earlier marriage. Together they have Valentino, aged 4.

But he still hid the extent of his disability from her, and there were times early on when she thought it was because he didn't care enough. Why didn't he come to meet her at the airport?

"He was trying to manage it himself and falling short. I started really demanding the truth, I suppose," Keddie says.

"There were times when I felt I don't know who you are because you are not letting me see you. So, I pushed pretty hard, which was uncomfortable for him and uncomfortable for me.

"Once I understood that memory is a genuine issue for him, I just started to let it go myself and my frustration started to dissipate."

Fantauzzo family Melbourne portrait artist Vincent Fantauzzo with his wife, actress, Asher Keddie, and sons Luca and Valentino. 

Fantauzzo admits: "I'll go to the supermarket and buy beans instead of tomatoes, you lose everything, you forget everything.
I have locked her out, lost my keys, taken her laptop instead of mine.
"I don't know what month comes next. I don't know what season is next.
I'd have to go through it.
"Even if you give me a letter in the alphabet, I can't tell you the letter after it unless I sing the whole song.
"Keddie began to understand Fantauzzo's dyslexia could be his strength.
"He is so competent at so many things that I am not," she says.

"He has an extraordinary way of thinking and delivering in life. I'm kind of envious of it in a way.
I look at him and I think, 'God, you just think about things in a way that my brain doesn't'.

"I find that fascinating.
Funnily enough, the solutions he comes to and the problem-solving is really accomplished.

"Fantauzzo's dyslexia is something Keddie learnt to adapt to.
She has five schedules around the house, the studio, the car.
"Everywhere you can think of:, to then start to read them is another challenge for him," she says.
"And as simple as I can make it, it's painful for him.
"For his part, he feels accepted by Keddie "and loved for who I am".
"She doesn't want me to be anyone else and I don't want her to be anyone else".

'Unless I hustle, I won't get through life'

Fantauzzo grew up in and around Broadmeadows and Glenroy, the rougher suburbs
of north Melbourne. One of five children in a series of tiny two-bedroom commission
houses, his mother slept on a sofa by the front door.

His Irish mother had met his Italian father at an immigration camp at Broadmeadows.
After his parents split, his mother Rosaleen worked hard to support the family.

"I'd go to school in a better neighbourhood and I would have hand-me-down shoes
from my mum that had pink stripes, so I'd colour them blue," Fantauzzo says.

"You'd go to friend's houses and they would have two bathrooms and a table that they had dinner at, and we couldn't even fit a table in the house," he says.

"Never mind five of us trying to use a bathroom that wouldn't work properly."

There weren't many opportunities for someone like Fantauzzo.
He was as hard worker, could do anything with his hands, but wasn't able to do
anything that involved paperwork.

Vincent Fantauzzo Vincent Fantauzzo (centre blue shirt) in his younger years. He worked as a printer, painter, concreter. He ran his own dry-cleaning business.
"I was so bored I was drawing all day long and people would come in and see my
drawings and be much more interested in the drawings than the dry-cleaning," he says.

Fantauzzo's lowest ebb was applying for a menial packing job at a factory.
He failed a simple written test repeatedly.
"I thought to myself, just quietly, unless I hustle and do something really dodgy,
how am I going to get through life?," Fantauzzo says.

"The dream of being successful is a dream that I can't reach unless I'm a criminal."
And there was plenty of opportunity for that in the world he lived in.

Frustrated and angry, he got into fights. "I tried to be this tough guy that people
wouldn't mess with.
When you grow up in these areas, who do you look up to? Gangsters and drug dealers," Fantauzzo says.
"There are 100 stories of the kind of things that happened. Bats, skateboards, knives;
like, all of that happened.
"He found the gun in a couch he was moving for some gangsters.
"I took the gun home and I kept it for years — so people knew I carried a gun."
But he adds quickly, "I never shot anyone".

"I did a lot of bad stuff that I regret so much.
And I think about gangs and kids doing bad stuff and I think,
all they need is a little bit of confidence," he says.

Fantauzzo was always interested in boxing and martial arts.
"That kept me off drugs," he says.
Legendary boxing trainer Jack Rennie let him train in his backyard gym for free
if he cleaned the place.
He became a mentor and guide and one of the first to recognise Fantauzzo's talent for art.
By his early 20s, Fantauzzo was drawing portraits of famous sports people and selling
them to make a living.
"He was painting for 12 hours a night," friend Matt Phillios says.

He once drove to Donald Bradman's house in Adelaide to show him a painting.
The cricket great gave him permission to make prints.

Fantauzzo forged his name on someone else's school results and scammed his way into university.
He worked hard but had to pay people to do his essays at RMIT.
He was caught, confessed, and was finally diagnosed with dyslexia.

The news broke his heart and left him angry that he had to find out
he had a learning disability as an adult.

"There was also relief that I'm not stupid" 
"I actually have something wrong with me," Fantauzzo says.

"It was about getting over the shame and humiliation I had carried my whole life."

RMIT helped him with disability liaison support so he could dictate his exams and essays.
He finished something for the first time in his life and would eventually
gain a masters degree.

Fantauzzo's visual language 'superpower'

No-one told Fantauzzo that there can be great gifts that come with being dyslexic.

"I see all these incredibly successful dyslexic people, and I've found my own gifts
within dyslexia. I'm lucky I have a creative gift that I've been able to embrace," he says.

Fantauzzo brings the empathy of someone who has struggled through hard times
to the people he meets and paints.

"He is very vulnerable, a lot of his life has been spent hiding," Keddie says.
"Yet he seeks the truth in his art and in his relationships."

Says his mother Rosaleen:
"He gets right into their psyche, and into their minds and he will be their friend forever."

Fantauzzo says he was always drawn to paint the human face.
His astounding portrait of Ledger was painted in the weeks before the actor's death and was runner-up in the Archibald Prize.

painted Moran in a cool room surrounded by carcasses.

"He actually needs to hang out with that person and feel what they're like before
he can paint them," Moran says.

Fantauzzo suggested Baz Lurhmann go on a big motorbiking adventure around India. Lurhmann said "f**k it" and went.

Baz Luhrmann 'off Screen', by artist Vincent FantauzzoBaz Luhrmann 'Off Screen', by Vincent Fantauzzo —
winner of the 2011 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. 

The portrait, Baz in an unglamorous moment of exhausted vulnerability with his head in his hands, won the Moran Portrait Prize in 2011.

"He wants to capture the struggle in people, that perhaps speaks to himself as well and what he knows to be true," Keddie says.

"He likes to see as many layers to someone as he can, so the painting speaks of story and history; he's interested in what makes up their world."

Portrait of former Prime Minister, Julie Gillard, painted by Vincent Fantauzzo Fantauzzo's portrait of former prime minister Julia Gillard. 

When Fantauzzo's painting of Julia Gillard was unveiled at Parliament House, there was, says Gillard "an audible intake of breath, as the audience looked at it".

"I think he's captured a look in my eyes, which is about leadership, and about strength but with some ambiguity in it," she says.

An exterior at sunset of a building with the name The Fantauzzo From a tumultuous childhood to a prestigious namesake hotel,
Vincent Fantauzzo has come a long way. 

When the Art Series Hotels named the newly opened Fantauzzo hotel at Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane after him, and he found out that it would be filled with his paintings,
he couldn't believe it.

Keddie then discovered that her husband had kept no records of any of his work
over 25 years.

"She had to find out where the paintings had gone, who owned them,
what had happened to them," Fantauzzo says.

"It was a huge job, at the end of which she fired herself.
She said she would never do it again."

The night the hotel opened Keddie looked up at the neon sign.

"I said, 'Just stop. Just stop".
"Look at me.'

It said The Fantauzzo.
I said "can you even believe it?

This is a combination of all your hard work, and your perseverance,
just take a breath right now and enjoy it, just for a moment."

In a life that has been about overcoming so many odds, Fantauzzo can now joke about it.

"I definitely feel that dyslexia is a superpower,
and I'm sorry for all you people that don't have it."
Reporting: Vanessa Gorman

Feature writer: Susan Chenery

Photography: Mark Farnell, Chris Gillette, supplied by Vincent Fantauzzo

Digital Producer: 
Megan Mackander

We have uploaded this wonderful, critically important story of Vince Fantauzzo
with the intention of providing encouragement and confidence to the many many
wonderful souls who through absolutely no fault of their own are being neglected
by our
knowingly keep PUSHING these innocent SOULS out  ....until they crack.

We all need to know that any possible sense or intimation that we may abandone them or separate from them or expect any commandment issued to them to be abided by you can guarantee ELEVATED resistance to self harming or inflicting vilolence upon their closest supporters.

Early life identification to assist these innocent wounded children of our TRAUMATISED SOCIETY is essential.

Society need to learn and understand what makes these souls tick to loving avoid inflaming inflicted born emotions. 

Last Updated on Monday, 20 June 2022 21:12
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