The Art of Sacrifice. Just the name of George Petrou’s new book is enough to capture the attention of readers. That is until you delve deeper into all 425 pages of the renowned Melbourne artist’s book and you see how his collection of portraits perfectly capture a spirit like no other – the Anzac spirit.
Of course, it takes time to photograph the essence of what it means to be an Anzac as vividly as Petrou. But the proud Greek Australian tells The Greek Herald how his bowel cancer diagnosis in 2010 gave him the push he needed to shine a creative spotlight on Australians from all walks of life who have served our great nation with gallantry and sacrifice.
“I’ve been running a design studio for 42 years now… but when I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided that if I survived, I would back off work a bit and take up a bit more of a passion,” Petrou tells The Greek Herald.
“I was painting a lot of abstract portraits at the time which I was enjoying, but I sort of felt I needed something with a bit more substance. So I turned to my interest in Australian history and combined it with my passion for painting. Painting became my chemotherapy and that’s why I started painting the portraits.”
From that moment, Petrou went on to have three major photography exhibitions – The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, Australian Victoria Cross Recipients and Twelve Great Australian Stories. Portraits from these collections, as well as separate portraits Petrou has been commissioned to paint of other great Australian figures, all feature in The Art of Sacrifice.
But there is one twist. Petrou wanted his book to be educational, as well as artistic, and this led to him and his daughter, Grace, travelling around Australia to photograph the relatives of the war veterans in his portraits and along the way, document the courageous stories of survival.
In some places across Sydney and Brisbane which the father-daughter duo couldn’t reach because of the coronavirus lockdowns, Petrou’s nephew and Sharon Mathewson, the granddaughter of a war veteran included in the book, took photographs instead.
“The book is basically my art. It’s storytelling. We have a total of 63 different authors in the book, me being one of them. Some of the authors are relatives of the subjects of my portraits. They are sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great nephews and great nieces, who talk about their relation to the subject of my portrait,” Petrou explains.
“They’ve also been photographed in black and white, and the background becomes a part of the story. For example, one of the men I painted was born in Williamstown, Melbourne, so we actually photographed his granddaughter in that environment.
“They’ve come across pretty well and [the book] really tells wonderful stories of great Australians who have sacrificed so much so we can enjoy the liberties and freedoms that we cherish today.”
In fact, the book has connected the past and the present in such a unique, powerful and evocative way, that Petrou believes it could also become the ultimate symbol of commemoration at wreath laying ceremonies.
“What I’m suggesting is I want these people who continually lay floral wreaths at services… which are very expensive and don’t last very long, to buy a book, lay it down with a bit of rosemary on top for remembrance and then after the service, they can donate it to their local school or library,” Petrou says passionately.
“Not only is it cheaper, it’s educational and it has a lasting effect. Our younger generation can understand the sacrifices these great people have made for us and the profits go back into veterans anyway.”
With such a worthy cause behind The Art of Sacrifice, we can’t wait for it to hit our bookshelves on August 2. For now though, the book is available for purchase direct from Petrou, with all sale profits being donated to veteran charities. You can contact Petrou on his mobile: 0427 777 185 or email: email@example.com if you’d like to purchase a copy.
*The Art of Sacrifice has been published by Big Sky Publishing.