Artist Martin Shaw’s mystery painting Three Well Known Australians has arrived in Katanning along with the question it has toured the nation with since 1983 — who are the three abstract figures it depicts? “A magician should never reveal their secrets,” Shaw said, adding that he will never reveal who or what the figures represent. More important to Shaw than who the figures are is recording who generations of Australians think they might be. The origin of the project which he likens to a “yearbook or a portrait of Australia” lies in Shaw’s early life. “When I was in my 20s I did market research,” he said. “You’d go to a shopping centre, and it could be any kind of research, you’d ask people their names, their occupation, their age — if I didn’t have that market research job I wouldn’t have thought of this idea.” Like a survey, the purpose of the work is to pose a question and record the answer and the painting is on tour with a collection of 160 framed letters and ledgers collating past guesses made by the Australian public. At a recent showing in Bunbury, one of the exhibition volunteers saw a guess made 10 years prior by a distant relative. “She looked in the previous book and she saw a relation,” Shaw said. “She photographed it and sent it to her relation and they had a good old yarn, that’s one of the ideas behind the project, that people might see family and friends.” Three Well Known Australians came to Katanning 10 years ago and guesses made by then participants are able to be seen at the exhibition. In 2021, Premier Mark McGowan took part in the project. Mr McGowan said the seated red figure was Aboriginal stockman and artist Rover Thomas Joolma, the blue figure was Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe and the figure holding the umbrella was Dr Fiona Wood. “It is fitting that she is pictured holding an umbrella over another,” Mr McGowan wrote. “This symbolises her driving motivation, the care of others.” The Three Well Known Australians exhibition will be on show at the Katanning Art Gallery until June 17.