Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Royal Visit !

The King & Charles Billich
 Visiting foreign potentates are rare in the Emerald City but this week  George TupouV, the current King of Tonga returned for further sittings for an official portrait being produced by controversial Sydney based artist Charles Billich.

Charles and wife Christa Billich lent their Rock's gallery for a reception for the King hosted by the Tongan Honorary  Consul Generals Bill Waterhouse and his daughter Louise Raedler-Waterhouse. Bill and Lousie were both at young bookmaker Tom Warehouse's website launch last week and said they were looking forward to George Tupou V's visit.

Tongan born Lorna Tonga sang the national anthems of both countries whilst a Croatian born cellist entertained guests ( Charles , born in Croatia once fought in the Croatian Underground).

His Majesty's empire consists of about 169 islands spread over about 800 kilometres with a population of 102,000 (2009). When the King visits his subjects, he travels in a London taxi although he has an ancient Austin Princess for more formal occasions. He once owned Tonga's electricity supply (the source of the Royal Family's wealth) which he generously sold to the nation some time ago for $20M.

The Tongan Royal Palace

His financial adviser is the  Saudi arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi. The King once contemplated setting up Tonga as a repository for tax exile corporations but was persuaded it wouldn't go down too well with former rulers Great Britain, a source for foreign aid to the perpetually struggling empire of the King.

A  Billich work of art
The Social Shuttle's Bill Ranken, a rural expert was once invited to Tonga by George V's mother Queen Salote to advise on her flock of royal sheep.

 He found all 50 of them in a pen at the back door of the Royal Palace, a rambling colonial style bungalow.

Quite how His Majesty finally settled on Billich as the chosen artist for his official portrait is steeped in mystery. Billich is hugely successful but critics sneer at his work claiming it is akin to commercial art.

The King said on ABC television about Charles : ""Well the thing is a lot of artists are actually better than what they think they are,"

"Donatello for example was apprenticed as a plasterer, Michelangelo thought he was a sculptor. Charles Billich - I like his drawings better than his paintings."

Hopefully his choice of Billich was for his love of his work rather than an investment. The Billich's recently opened Art Bar in Kings Cross, decorated with Charles' paintings is struggling and looks set to close with few art works sold. Those attached to the ceiling remain in place.

At Lawson Menzies Auction house in Glebe, a few months ago a Billich print was presented with great flourish at the weekly art sale. It went for the princely sum of $1. That's the bid accepted when the seller doesn't want the goods returned.