Drawing Him Out

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He would rather get kicked out of class than stand up and read aloud. I just thought I'm going to be so bad I'll get kicked out of school, and I'll have this reputation and I'll ride with that," he says. Why is everyone else able to do this and I'm not? In fact, Fantauzzo was very far from stupid. He is a gifted man with great intuition and empathy. It is just that his brain is wired differently to other people. From the time Fantauzzo was a tiny child he would draw animals and cartoons.

He drew on everything. One enlightened teacher let him draw caricatures of the teachers.

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He would become a portrait artist known for his award-winning portraits of people like actors Heath Ledger and Guy Pearce, chef Matt Moran and director Baz Luhrmann. Fantauzzo gets close, into the psyche of the people he paints. But it was his soulful painting of Keddie that would change his life. His memory problems stemming from his dyslexia make punctuality problematic.

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And because of this, he nearly missed his first meeting with Keddie. He had asked his friend Moran if he knew the "hot" girl on TV.

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He wanted to paint her. She checked out his work and decided that if anyone was going to paint her, it would be him. But Fantauzzo was characteristically late to the first meeting and Keddie wasn't going to hang around — she was busy filming for the television program Offspring and just wanted to get home to the country to her horses. I was just drawn to him and I could feel the same coming from him. The pair married in April Fantauzzo already had a son, Luca, now aged 9, from an earlier marriage. Together they have Valentino, aged 4. But he still hid the extent of his disability from her, and there were times early on when she thought it was because he didn't care enough.

Why didn't he come to meet her at the airport?

I started really demanding the truth, I suppose," Keddie says. So, I pushed pretty hard, which was uncomfortable for him and uncomfortable for me. Fantauzzo admits: "I'll go to the supermarket and buy beans instead of tomatoes, you lose everything, you forget everything. I have locked her out, lost my keys, taken her laptop instead of mine. I don't know what season is next. I'd have to go through it. I'm kind of envious of it in a way.


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I look at him and I think, 'God, you just think about things in a way that my brain doesn't'. Funnily enough, the solutions he comes to and the problem-solving is really accomplished. Fantauzzo's dyslexia is something Keddie learnt to adapt to. She has five schedules around the house, the studio, the car. For his part, he feels accepted by Keddie "and loved for who I am.

She doesn't want me to be anyone else and I don't want her to be anyone else". Fantauzzo grew up in and around Broadmeadows and Glenroy, the rougher suburbs of north Melbourne. One of five children in a series of tiny two-bedroom commission houses, his mother slept on a sofa by the front door. His Irish mother had met his Italian father at an immigration camp at Broadmeadows.

After his parents split, his mother Rosaleen worked hard to support the family. There weren't many opportunities for someone like Fantauzzo. He was as hard worker, could do anything with his hands, but wasn't able to do anything that involved paperwork.


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He worked as a printer, painter, concreter. He ran his own dry-cleaning business. Fantauzzo's lowest ebb was applying for a menial packing job at a factory. He failed a simple written test repeatedly. Frustrated and angry, he got into fights. When you grow up in these areas, who do you look up to? Gangsters and drug dealers," Fantauzzo says. Bats, skateboards, knives; like, all of that happened. He found the gun in a couch he was moving for some gangsters.

And I think about gangs and kids doing bad stuff and I think, all they need is a little bit of confidence," he says. Legendary boxing trainer Jack Rennie let him train in his backyard gym for free if he cleaned the place. He became a mentor and guide and one of the first to recognise Fantauzzo's talent for art.

By his early 20s, Fantauzzo was drawing portraits of famous sports people and selling them to make a living.

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He once drove to Donald Bradman's house in Adelaide to show him a painting. The cricket great gave him permission to make prints. Fantauzzo forged his name on someone else's school results and scammed his way into university. He worked hard but had to pay people to do his essays at RMIT.

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He was caught, confessed, and was finally diagnosed with dyslexia. The news broke his heart and left him angry that he had to find out he had a learning disability as an adult. RMIT helped him with disability liaison support so he could dictate his exams and essays. He finished something for the first time in his life and would eventually gain a masters degree. I'm lucky I have a creative gift that I've been able to embrace," he says. Fantauzzo brings the empathy of someone who has struggled through hard times to the people he meets and paints.

Says his mother Rosaleen: "He gets right into their psyche, and into their minds and he will be their friend forever. Fantauzzo says he was always drawn to paint the human face. His astounding portrait of Ledger was painted in the weeks before the actor's death and was runner-up in the Archibald Prize. He painted Moran in a cool room surrounded by carcasses. Fantauzzo suggested Baz Lurhmann go on a big motorbiking adventure around India.