TOM McKenzie remembers his first portrait. Laying in a hospital bed, battling pain stemming from rare effects of Bell's Palsy and a loss of sight in his left eye, the 35-year-old picked up a ballpoint pen and started to draw.
Fast-forward 20 hours and McKenzie, still a Kolora-Noorat footballer who grew up in Terang, was shocked with the final product.
An ultra-detailed drawing of Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, a 1990s culture icon, was staring back at him. It ignited a passion which would eventually spawn into a career.
"During the pandemic, I fell sick," McKenzie, who now lives in St Kilda, tells The Standard.
"Before that I'd been a teacher for 10 years. When I fell sick, doctors sort of said I wouldn't be able to work for a significant amount of time.
"It's an ongoing illness. Essentially it was Bell's Palsy but it came with a lot of other rare issues with it. My eyesight went on me. Pain came in which I still deal with now, but it's so much better than it was last year."
McKenzie, who uses the alias 'Goldern Boi' for his art endeavours, says curiosity sparked the initial portrait.
"It was that more than anything and I started drawing. By the time I'd finished it, I probably surprised myself," he says.
"I couldn't believe the final result. I was really happy with it. Obviously I was sick at the time and I was in a lot of pain so I found it to be a real relief.
"It was my way of relaxing in a difficult time. During that process, I fell in love with it. I just wanted to do more essentially. I ended up having three months off work, I was almost housebound.
Being sick for so long, it puts a lot of things into perspective and that was a big awakening for me, I guess.- Tom McKenzie
"This illness affected my eyesight but I found different ways to make it work and produce these large portraits. I just loved it and I just kept trying to make more and more art, even when I returned to work."
Fate is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, but peculiar funny. Life has an interesting way of pointing you in the right direction and that's just what happened for McKenzie.
Towards the end of 2021, he took the plunge into art full-time. But it wasn't an easy decision.
"It was a tough call because I've loved teaching and I've done it for like 10 years so to step away from it was a huge decision," he says.
"I've had a lot of support from my fiance (Melati) and family and friends who were telling me to give it a shot. I'm glad I have, but it'll be a tough year and I've just got to keep putting myself out there, like making those videos on TIkTok and for my social media.
"I guess being sick for so long, it puts a lot of things into perspective and that was a big awakening for me, I guess."
Art wasn't a strange topic to McKenzie prior to his foray into portraiture. He studied graphic design at university before shifting into education and had long been fond of doodling.
"I've just always loved being creative in different ways, whether that's art or video editing or anything like that," he says.
"In terms of the portraits I'm creating, I'd literally never drawn one until I was sick last year. That's a completely new avenue of art for myself.
"If I work really quickly, they take 20 hours but I'd say I average about 50 hours. Just having that time to do it, I'm fortunate I guess.
"It's really relaxing. I put music on or listen to a podcast or audiobook and I just lose hours in the day. They disappear. It's definitely therapeutic because I just love doing it."
McKenzie finds inspiration in 1990s culture. He's completed works of former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, supermodel Kate Moss, pop princess Madonna and even pop culture icon Jerry Seinfeld.
"Obviously I grew up in the '90s and I've used a lot of the icons through that period as my inspiration," he says.
"I'm looking now at working on some '90s music icons, which has been fun.
"My inspo is '90s themed in terms of the portrait work. I've been focusing on turfting, which is kind of a weird side hustle.
"It's quite new in terms of art but essentially it's creating a rug. I then use that for wall art. It's hard to explain but I showcased them at a night market last week.
"They were really popular and a lot sold so I'm looking forward to doing more of that too."
In the meantime, McKenzie plans to suit up for the Power on Saturday afternoons. The talented onballer is planning to carpool with good mates Ben Fraser, Jason Moloney and Jacob Mahony.
"I'm still heading down which is good. I think I played two games last year, just with being sick and before that was obviously the pandemic so I missed a bit there," he says.
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"I think I'll be a bit rusty but it might prolong my career a bit though, not playing too much.
"They're a good bunch of guys and we're travelling together and enjoy working out and training down here together which is good."
McKenzie's dream is to run his own exhibition at some stage. He knows there's work to do but it's something he's continually working at.
"That's the big goal," he says.
"I don't have a date or a timeline for that but that's something I'm really looking forward to getting to.
"I'm sort of just in the moment, just finding my feet in the art world so that's definitely a long-term goal for me and my art."
To check out McKenzie's artwork, follow @goldern_boi on Instagram or visit goldernboi.com to see his complete portraiture collection.
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