In Arts + Entertainment

An Exclusive Insight Into The Life Of Heath Ledger

The life and work of WA’s favourite son, Heath Ledger, is on display at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

In a world first, a curated collection of objects and photographs that provide insight in to the life and work of WA’s favourite son, Heath Ledger, is on display at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Opening to the public on Saturday October 14, the WA-exclusive Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures exhibition celebrates the colourful life of the much loved Perth born actor. Inspired by his passion, creativity and dedication to his craft, the retrospective takes you on a journey from Ledger’s childhood, through to the silver screen. It couldn’t come at a better time, as this coming January marks 10 years since Ledger passed away.

Curated by Sydney-based academic Dr Allison Holland, the collaborative exhibition between the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Western Australian Museum has been many years in the making. Stemming from an offer in 2010 by the Western Australian Museum to the Ledger family to archive and store Heath’s possessions, the exhibition slowly took form after appointing Holland as curator in 2011.

“It has been a wonderful journey for me working on the Heath Ledger exhibition. It started in 2011 and I have worked very closely with the family but also with a lot of heaths friends and colleagues,” says Holland.

Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. Photo: Focus Features

“They have all in their own way contributed quotes or images or film footage, so it will be interesting for everyone to look more closely at the objects and the labels and the text, and to see how all of these contributions have come together in this wonderful exhibition to pay tribute to his life.”

In going through “the books in his library, the kinds of things that he read, and the music that he listened to,” Holland began to see the way in which Ledger framed the world.

“I became incredibly fascinated, because there are so many things that you never get to learn about the acting craft just looking at people on the screen.”

“By the time I got to see his music videos I could actually see how he had amassed all of this knowledge and expertise in working with industry people – directors of photography and film directors. And even into when he started to create his own films and going on to direct the Queens Gambit.”

More than just an exhibition of his work, the collection speaks volumes about Ledger as a person. It captures a young, vibrant man in his prime; and at the top of his game. From a display of his own impressive camera collection, to pieces from his childhood as a Guilford Grammar student, the choice of personal artefacts helped to shape a wider narrative around Ledger outside of his movie roles.

“All of these little clues in the archive helped me to curate the exhibition, and to seek out those kinds of narratives that I think he would be happy with,” says Holland.

Ledger in what became his most famous role. Photo: The Dark Knight, Warner Bros

Perhaps the most highly valued personal artefacts of the exhibition are Ledger’s own hand-written character diaries, developed to understand each role that he played more deeply.

“He kept a number of diaries. Every time he took on a new role, he would start to take notes about how to get under the skin of this person,” says Holland.

“So, we have one for The Patriot, one for The Joker, one for the Brothers Grimm and I am sure there are others that we haven’t discovered yet. But, they are very interesting insights in to how he worked psychologically towards creating his characters.”

Although inaccessible behind glass, the content of Ledger’s different diaries isn’t a guarded secret.

“They are actually an educational resource. So, if people are really fascinated, they can come and read the whole diary or look at film footage from behind the scenes.”

10 Things I Hate About You. Photo: Touchstone Pictures

Entirely digitalised, the multimedia diary displays and exclusive footage – often shot on set himself – are an essential part of Ledger’s legacy.

Learning from the best in the business himself, Ledger wanted to go on to educate and inspire the new generation of budding actors, screen writers and directors. That sentiment is not lost in the curation of the exhibition. As Holland noted, ‘We have had collaborations with 3 of the universities in Western Australia on this project. There is a short documentary by students from the WA Screen Academy, students from UWA have contributed and also from Curtin University.’

‘I think that the message I would like people to take away from this exhibition is inspiration, especially inspiration for young west Australians who are looking to work in the film industry,’ said Holland.

The free exhibition runs from October 12 2017 until January 29 2018, exclusively at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. A calendar of free and ticket workshops coincides with the three-month long exhibition, adding to it further invaluable insights and knowledge into the film industry.

(Lead image: Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures Photo: Karin Catt)

Published 13 October, 2017