I was in Sydney recently and had a couple of hours late one afternoon—just enough time to visit the 2016 Archibald exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It is the second opportunity I have had to visit the Archibald, and again I was moved, amazed and amused by the variety of the portraits on display. The most unusual painting was a self-portrait by Tasmanian Michael McWilliams called ‘The Usurpers.’ The style looks like something from the Renaissance, the theme, those introduced species which have caused most environmental damage in Australia, though innocent themselves and unaware of the damage caused.
For me, the most arresting portrait was of Deng Adut by Nick Stathopoulos. Deng was a Sudanese refugee who put himself through law school and has become a prominent refugee advocate and community leader. Described as ‘hyper-realist,’ Stathopoulos has captured every line, tattoo, wrinkle and blood vessel; the result is stunning. Also powerful was the portrait by Abdul Abdullah, and interesting, that by Tsering Hannaford.
The winner of the prize was Louise Hearman for her portrait of Barry Humphries. It is not the winner I would have chosen, but what do I know? I have simply proven once more that I don’t know what to look for in great art; I do, however, know what I like! Nevertheless, even I can see that Hearman’s portrait is remarkable, especially, for me, the way she captures the light in its different effects on Humphries’ hair, skin, jacket and eyes.
Also on exhibition were the winners of the Wynne and Suliman prizes. The subject matter for these exhibitions is far more diverse, but there were nonetheless some remarkable pieces. Two paintings really took my interest. The first was “Blonde Block,” a large painting that I first saw from an adjacent room and thought, “Yuck! What a boring picture of a block of flats!” Later when I made it to that painting I astounded to see that the artist, Peter O’Doherty, had painted so that standing directly in front of it, it was blurred. How that was done I have no idea, but the effect was intriguing. The Wynne prize winner was “Seven Sisters” by the Ken Family Collaborative. The small picture here online simply does not do justice to the vibrancy, movement, colour and texture of the painting. If you can get to Sydney, it is well worth a visit.
I was in Sydney recently and took the opportunity to visit the Art Gallery of NSW to view the portraits submitted for this year’s Archibald Prize. Now I am not an artist in any sense of the word, and could only stand amazed at so many of the paintings, admiring the skill and composition of the artists. I was glad that there were volunteer tour guides explaining and giving story about each of the paintings and sometimes, of the techniques involved. I enjoyed the experience so much, I might make it an annual pilgrimage!
The winning painting, by Fiona Lowry, actually shone, and was beautiful to look at. Lowry uses an airbrush technique to produce her work – at least the couple I saw – and the result was luminous. She had asked her subject, Penelope Seidler, to visit a place of particular memory for her. They went to the property that she and her husband had once owned. At some point while they walked the grounds of the old homestead, Seidler had turned and looked up at the old house. Lowry has captured her at that moment, and this was the result.
I also loved the painting Morpheus by Andrew Mezei, and perhaps if I were the judge, this one may have won. It was much smaller than Lowry’s work, and almost renaissance in its style, with mythological and symbolic elements enhancing the subject – Professor Kate Leslie, an anaesthetist and leading researcher into awareness and dreaming experienced by patients under general anaesthesia. The fish (representing the dreams), the poppies (opiates and sedation), the finger stirring the water and creating the ripples, the water itself, and the pebbled bed: a magnificent painting, in my humble and unschooled opinion! But, having said that, Lowry’s portrait of Seidler was also magnificent and a worthy winner.
All the portraits can be seen here, and other entries I found captivating included those by:
a) Jandamarra Cadd (Archie Roach) – this painting communicated massive dignity;
b) Anh Do (his father) – Do’s father was a baker and the painting looked like it had been done with a cake-icing knife!
c) Vincent Fantauzzo (himself, as his son!?) – a large painting; the eyes are amazing;
d) Tim Maguire (Cate Blanchett) – technique: the second frame adds blue;
e) Mirra Whale (Tom Uren) – She captures something very human in this portrait;
f) Mariola Smarzak (Wendy) – Not sure why I liked this one so much; an intense realism?