Having returned to Sydney, Dobell applied outlooks and techniques gained in Britain to analyse everyday Australians. His early portraits were conceived of as examinations of well-known social types. The thrifty young student exuding uncertainty, the grinning and overweight labourer in stained work singlet, the girl in hairpins daydreaming of romance as she prepares to go out, the isolated and mocked artist in a cheap Kings Cross studio—Dobell’s eye found unlikely subjects for portraiture.
In taking this direction, Dobell went against those dignified and staid images of establishment figures that were the accepted convention for portraiture. He dared to paint normal Sydneysiders who were considered beneath art, which is why his pictures shook, disturbed and caused a mighty fuss.