Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen

Black Inc, 2014, 208 pp

Journalist Erik Jensen (now editor of The Saturday Paper) was just nineteen years old when, after interviewing the now deceased painter Adam Cullen in 2008 for an artist profile for the Sydney Morning Herald, the seemingly always-on-the-make Cullen convinced him to become his pseudo-biographer. The resulting monograph Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen is a testimony to the following four years of conversation between the Gen Y wunderkind and Gen X enfant terrible, filtered through the mythologies of their 1960s predecessors: Hunter S. Thompson meets Billy Burroughs.

It's both the writerly and generational angle that makes this book refreshing, and it is posthumous evidence of Cullen’s canny ability to harness the power of serendipity. The book is structured as a series of vignettes written by someone who is overtly less interested in Cullen’s art than Cullen’s character - a sort of textual Archibald portraiture in reverse. Yet, at the same time, I came away with a much stronger understanding of the wellspring of Cullen’s image repertoire. Ultimately, this book belongs to the canon of addiction literature (it is by no means a 'dainty’ book) and is thankfully nuanced beyond its obvious new journalism inheritance, even seguing into a meditation on Cullen’s latent ‘junkie’ queerness.

 

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.