Archibald prize-winning Australian artist Craig Ruddy has died aged 53. His death was announced on social media, in a post which stated, “It is with the heaviest of tender hearts we let you know that last night Craig left his body peacefully at home in Robertos arms. We have lost the most divine human that gave so much to our communities, the creativity, the inspiration, the pure love and plenty of dance.”

While his cause of death was not mentioned in the post, a media release on the Byron Shire Council website attributed it “as a result of complications from COVID-19”.

Craig Ruddy

Craig Ruddy. Source: Instagram.

Ruddy was a frequent feature of the Archibald Prize, winning the main prize and the People’s Choice prize in 2004 for his painting of Indigenous actor David Dalaithngu, titled Two Worlds. He won People’s Choice again in 2004 for his portrait of film-maker Warwick Thornton, and was a finalist in 2011 and 2020 for portraits of athlete Cathy Freeman and writer Bruce Pascoe.

Ruddy’s portrait of Dalaithngu was the source of controversy after its win when Tony Johansen, also an artist, took legal action against the Art Gallery of NSW arguing that the work was a drawing, rather than a painting, as Ruddy had predominantly used charcoal in its composition. This action was dismissed by the NSW Supreme Court.

In the note submitted alongside the painting, Ruddy wrote, “David is a man who crosses the lines that still divide two contrasting world. One is an infinite world of spiritual connection with the land and universe as a whole, and the other a materialistic conformation of western civilisation. Simplicities and complexities infiltrate both worlds and David seems to strike a balance.”

“The bold, free-spirited line work of the charcoal and graphite contrast with the structured and refined opulence of the colonial English wallpaper. I hope that the work represents the energy and spirituality that I experienced in his presence.”

After Dalaithngu’s death in late 2021, Ruddy wrote on social media, “This is how I’ll always remember you, strong, resilient and cheeky. My heart is heavy knowing you’ve left this world but your legendary spirit will live on forever.”

Born in the Sydney suburb of Forestville in 1968, Ruddy studied design and fashion illustration at university. In 2001 he quit his design career to focus on painting full-time, with solo exhibitions at the Sydney Fringe Festival in 2002 and at Graphis Gallery in 2003. He also took part in several group shows at Dank Street Studio before his Archibald breakthrough.