A Brilliant Career

A colourful expressive oil painting portrait of a young woman with short hair.

DURATION: 4mins 24secs

Margaret Fink, 1987
by Judy Cassab
Oil on canvas
ML 1477


MARGOT: What follows here are excerpts from an oral history interview with Margaret Fink, which was recorded by the library in July 2018.

This portrait of Margaret Fink was painted as part of two-time Archibald prize winner Judy Cassab’s Artists and Friends series, which she created for her own pleasure throughout her long career and which were first exhibited at the S.H Ervin Gallery in 1988. The artist and her subject had been known to each other since the early 1950s through the local art scene. At the time this portrait was painted, in 1987, Fink, an art teacher turned film producer, had already achieved worldwide acclaim for her first feature-length film of Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career.

MARGARET: That’s one thing, of course, that is striking about Judy. I don’t think she could’ve existed without painting. She was obviously a very talented woman, but with that talent came an energy, a specific sort of energy. She had a very vital presence, very vivacious and very genuinely friendly. Very interesting. She was devoted to her husband and she was very fortunate, as too was Jenny Sages, another painter, also Jewish, because Jenny Sages and Judy Cassab had devoted and well-to-do husbands, which is an ideal situation for an artist because you’re not depending on sales.

She became well known, I think best known, for her portraits. She won the Archibald a couple of times. No great distinction in my view, by the way, however, in her case, possibly, I can’t remember the specific paintings. When it came to doing my portrait she rang me up and she said, “Look, you won’t have to sit around for ages in a cold studio. We’ll do it in my studio in my flat in Ocean Avenue and it’ll just be two hours.” And it was.

I knew Judy not as a friend but, well, some people are potential friends, I think, and she could have been, except we were both busy in our own lives. However, I certainly knew who she was and I was quite flattered, I think. Also I was intrigued to see how she would go about it in two hours. I don’t recall her talking. It was very comfortable, it was warm, it was a lovely flat. She made everything very easy. She would’ve got exactly what she wanted to perform and it is a performance. When she was working, maybe – it sounds arty but a bit trance-like. Yes. I know that when I’m drawing it is meditative. You go into another sphere. There’s no question about it. Her one proviso was that I was not to look until she was finished. However, at the end, she said rather theatrically, “And now, Margaret, you can have a look.” And so I went round and I saw my mother. My mother was dead by then. She had never met my mother. Now that is spooky.

I think it is one of her better portraits so I’m not surprised that the library invested in it. It’s an honour, I think, I really do think it is. And, look, if I’m recognised for anything I would like it to be for My Brilliant Career which, frankly, is my film. I mean, I handed it to the director on a plate because I made most of the decisions, creative decisions, that a director usually makes. However, after the success of My Brilliant Career, in Cannes, the festival, it was invited to be in competition. Locally it was on at a cinema in the city for over a year, which was customary then, with a hit. But the glory went, as it often does, to the director rather than to me so I was literally struggling after the success of a film which I had a great deal to do with, creatively. But I’m proud of that film because of its feminism. The more girls who see that film the better. I’m proud of all of them but I think in terms of the portrait being in a significant place, I’d like it to be underlined by people being encouraged to see My Brilliant Career.