Archibald-winning painter, Craig Ruddy has died at the age of 53 due to COVID-19 complications, at his home in Byron Bay.

Ruddy passed away on Tuesday night but his death was announced on Wednesday afternoon via a statement on social media.

‘We Have Lost the Most Divine Human That Gave so Much to Our Communities’

Ruddy’s Facebook post stated: “It is with the heaviest of tender hearts we let you know that last night Craig left his body peacefully at home in Roberto’s arms. We have lost the most divine human that gave so much to our communities, the creativity, the inspiration, the pure love and plenty of dance.

“We ask over these next few days a quietening within, to light a candle & play the music that moves you softly. The next week we will be devoted to loving Roberto through as he has always done for us.”

He is survived by Roberto Meza Mont, his partner of two decades. They both contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago. The pair were described in a profile in the Northern Rivers Review as a “powerhouse couple.”

Ruddy mentioned how he was diagnosed with a rare lung condition as a child. “It slowed me down and put me into a strange euphoric state,” he said. “As a result, I learned to sit and observe.”

Roberto Meza Mont and Craig Ruddy. Image: Marc Stapelberg

He’s also left behind his sister Kelli O’Shannassy and family who are also “devastated” and in “shock.”

Ruddy is most famous for his 2004 portrait of the late indigenous actor David Gulpilil which garnered him his first Archibald prize.

He painted Gulpilil another two times. The most recent was just last year when he entered the portrait into the Archibald prize on the day submissions were due.

He won the Archibald Prize’s People’s Choice Award for his third entry in 2010. It was a portrait of Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton.

In total, he was a five-time finalist with his self-portrait in 2006 as well as portraits of Cathy Freeman in 2011, and Bruce Pascoe in 2020.

‘I Love the Spontaneity of Life’

Craig Ruddy. Image: Scott McCourt, Facebook

Ruddy was born in Forestville, Sydney in 1968. He studied design and fashion illustration during the 1980s and worked as a commercial art director until 2001, when he retired to become a full-time artist.

He split his time between his home in Tamarama in Sydney’s east, his second home in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, and the Byron Bay hinterland where he moved to in 2015.

According to the ABC, Ruddy once said, “I love the spontaneity of life and the open freedom of spirit and mind that brings souls together. Relationship, touch, companionship. Union in love and friendship that carries new life that transcends all.”

Byron Shire Council mayor Michael Lyon said in a statement, “[I’m] devastated at the loss of my good friend and neighbour. Too young to leave us and such a beautiful, kind and generous soul, am still in complete shock.”

Ruddy’s friend Ian Couch posted on Facebook: “So sad to have to say farewell to an old and beloved friend. Craig worked for me for a number of years as a set designer, scenic artist and creative force…fly high old friend.”

Ben Franklin, the NSW Minister for the Arts tweeted: “A life so well lived, but taken far too soon. Craig Ruddy was an extraordinary artist. And a wonderful human being. My deepest sympathies go to his partner Roberto and the many people he touched throughout his life.”

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