02/21/2008 AT 06:05 PM EST
A portrait of the late Heath Ledger
is a contender for
Australia's esteemed Archibald Prize, one of the most prominent art prizes
in the country. It was painted by the actor's friend, Vincent Fantauzzo.
Simply titled "Heath," the portrait features three versions of the actor
– one haunted-looking rendition in the center of the canvas flanked by
two whispering figures on either side. According to Fantauzzo, originally
one of the side figures was to be screaming, but the artist changed his
concept, worrying that it would dominate the central figure, which he
intended to be the focus. "The whispering, the voices, the frustration or
something comical – they [represent] different ways that we
might be thinking in our own mind," Fantauzzo told Australia's Daily Telegraph.
Painted at Ledger's family's Perth home in December, Fantauzzo says the two
men collaborated on the concept together. Ledger sat for the portrait, even
signing a form to vouch for its authenticity and qualify the piece for an
Archibald Prize. "He signed it in the wrong spot," the artist remembered.
After their initial sessions, Ledger returned his work, and the painting sat
in Fantauzzo's Melbourne home, hanging on the wall until the artist heard
the sad news of the actor's death
. "I just didn't believe it," he said. "When you paint someone, you meditate over them. I was painting Heath every day for 10 hours a day."
The Archibald Prize will be announced on March 7. So far, 249 portraits have
been entered in the contest.