In 2008, the artist Adam Cullen invited journalist Erik Jensen to stay in his spare room and write his biography. A publisher wanted it, Cullen said. He was sick and ready to talk. Everything would be on the record.
What followed were four years of intense honesty and a relationship that became increasingly dangerous. At one point Cullen shot Jensen, to see how committed he was to the book. At another, he threw Jensen from a speeding motorbike.
Eventually, Jensen realised the contract did not exist. Cullen had invented it to get to know the writer. The book became an investigation of Cullen’s psychology and the decline of his final years.
In Acute Misfortune, we have a riveting account of the life and death of one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. The figure famous for his Archibald Prize-winning portrait of David Wenham is followed through drug deals and periods of deep self-reflection, onward into his trial for weapon possession and finally his death in 2012 at the age of 46.
The story is by turns tender and horrifying: a spare tale of art, sex, drugs and childhood, told at close quarters and without judgment.