Spot the difference: council sets off smoke alarm

By Louise Schwartzkoff

Like many men of his generation, the late artist Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo loved tobacco. In the dozens of self-portraits he painted before his death in 1955, he is often pictured with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

But when Manly Council decided to honour the former Manly resident with an exhibition and website, Dattilo-Rubbo’s vice collided with the council’s strict anti-smoking policy.

In an online news release advertising a website about the painter’s life and art, one of his self-portraits – The Artist And The Model – was painstakingly altered by a member of the council’s communications team. One smoking cigarette was airbrushed from the artist’s mouth, a second was banished from an ashtray on the table.

The incident comes a week after France was outraged by advertisements showing the iconic French comedian Jacques Tati without his signature pipe. In posters promoting an exhibition at the Cinematheque Francaise, Tati’s pipe was replaced by a toy windmill, a concession to France’s strict anti-smoking laws.

Manly Council is also renowned for its anti-smoking stance. In 2004, it was the first local government area in Australia to forbid smoking at its beaches. It has also banned smoking at al fresco dining areas, sporting grounds and within 10 metres of the entrances to council buildings.

The art consultant David Hulme, who was commissioned to create the Dattilo-Rubbo website by the council-operated Manly Art Gallery and Museum as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations, said he was shocked by the intervention. “It’s ridiculous that this could happen,” he said. “[Smoking] is what the artist was known for … It was not appropriate to take that cigarette out of his mouth. It was part and parcel of the man.”

Yesterday the council insisted the case of the disappearing cigarettes was all a simple mistake. A member of its management team had instructed a staff member in its communications department to remove the artwork featuring the cigarette.

Unfortunately, the instruction was misinterpreted and the staff member removed the cigarettes from the artwork instead. “Manly Council is a proud supporter of the arts and we would be opposed to any censorship – perceived or otherwise,” the spokeswoman said.

Oddly, the “misinterpretation” was not spotted by the council for several months – the news release first appeared in late January. But within hours of being contacted by the Herald yesterday, the missing cigarette had reappeared in the image on the council’s website.

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