On the 15th of October I visited the Tarrawarra Museum of Art to check out the 2019 Archibald Prize entries. I’ve never been to Tarrawarra before. It’s a beautiful building in a beautiful location. Here’s the view from the entry corridor on the way into the gallery itself.
The museum was opened in 2003 by philanthropists Eva and Marc Beson. In the corridor there’s a video of the two of them explaining how they became interested in art and their motivation for establishing the gallery. It includes interviews with artists, like John Olsen, explaining how influential the Bensons have been in supporting Australian artists. As well as gifting the building that houses the Museum, the Bensons donated a significant portion of their collection to the gallery. Here’s another view of the surrounding landscape, this time showing vines from the Tarrawarra vineyard which surrounds the gallery. This is from the window immediately opposite where you finally go in.
The Archibald exhibition circulates around different regional galleries from year to year. I’ve seen it in Ballarat and in Geelong. It’s been at Tarrawarra in years gone by and I’ve always wanted to visit. I always enjoy looking at the portraits as do lots of people which explains the award’s longevity. It’s been around since 1921 and has had its share of controversies, all the while, according to the programme, chronicling the changing face of Australian society and evolving definitions of portraiture Anyway, on into the show.
This is the 2019 winner, Lindy Lee by Tony Costa. The subject is a leading contemporary Australian artist and a Zen Buddhist, hence the outfit. I thought the green belt looked like a suicide vest which put me off a bit. We were told by the waitress at lunch that Tony Costa paints with his hands, not a paint brush and when you look closely at the painting you can see that. I liked the colours and the contemplative face. Not sure about the outfit.
My favourite was this self-portrait by Natasha Walsh, called A liminal space. She paints on copper which gives her paintings a luminous quality. She describes a liminal space as that undefinable threshold, when you have left something behind but have yet to become something else. I loved the ethereal quality in this painting as she hovers between earth and sky. Beautiful. And a painting that makes you think. What are we humans? Where do we exist? I really liked another painting by her, submitted to the 2017 Archibald, The scent of rain, another self portrait. It was much smaller, but using the same colour tones. I like them both equally.
Here is another familiar artist. I’ve seen her work in earlier Archibald exhibitions, unsurprising given she has been a finalist in seven. Prudence Flint is from Melbourne. Her female figures are always this shape. This one is called The stand and is of her companion and confidante for over 30 years, the artist Richard Stringer. She wanted an intimate bedroom scene of Richard with a simulacrum of another woman. I like the colours and shapes and the spareness of this but am not sure about the scene itself.
I liked this one – everything about it – the bold green background, the white face, the militaristic outfit. It’s called simply McLean by Vanessa Stockard. The subject is another artist, McLean Edwards. I wondered about all these portraits of artists; better than portraits of politicians and captains of industry perhaps but a bit incestuous. Edwards has been an Archibald finalist five times. Maybe the quality of a portrait is enhanced when the painter knows the sitter well. Who knows. Anyway I liked this; he looks like a pugnacious character.
Here’s another that tells a story. Called simply Self portrait by Kendal Gear from Perth. She chooses various interior spaces to reflect on the different areas of (my) life (that) reference some of the ways that women are valued in society. Here we have a kitchen window sill full of ornaments that denote themes of domesticity, femininity, sexualisation and maternity. The painting speaks for itself, you really don’t need the written explanation. I liked the darkness surrounding the woman.
On first viewing I wasn’t too keen on this enormous painting by David Griggs with it’s pretentious title, Tracing the antiquity of Jewish alchemy with Alexie Glass-Kantor. It’s of the executive director of Artspace in Sydney. The artist is another long term Archibald entrant – this is his eighth. Initially I thought it was all too busy and a hodge podge of lines and colour and I was annoyed at the description that it was a mood, a free-flowing creative exchange between two humans, two friends – twhat does that even mean! But it grew on me. And within the whole, the face of the sitter emerges with a distinctive personality; I think it’s the eyes.
I was immediately drawn to the colours in this exotic painting by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran titled Multi-limbed self-portrait (after ceramic figures) but I wasn’t sure about the figure. It’s a self portrait. I like the fact its abstract – too many portraits are too like photography to my mind. This one’s certainly not! He’s depicted himself imaginatively, as a polymorphic figure. ‘I referenced graffiti and South Asian rock art to develop a language of self-representation. I’ve also studied Hindu mythological figures to create this portrait’ he says. Ramesh was born in Sri Lanka but now lives in Sydney.
Here’s another abstract painting that on first viewing didn’t appeal but after reading the accompanying text made sense. This is contrary to the idea that a work of art should speak for itself, but there are always exceptions to rules. It’s by Shane Bowden a Brisbane artist who tells us that a year ago he underwent life-changing heart surgery that was the catalyst for this painting entitled Self-portrait in a red chair, Avalon. The portrait is a neo-expressionist reflection of myself as a child in part, mixed with all the emotion and confusion of the last 40 years as I tried to find my true self. Make of that what you will.
Back to some more traditional portraits now. This was very pretty, as well as being purposefully derivative. It’s by Angus McDonald and is a portrait of the lawyer, writer and social commentator for whom it is named, Mariam Veiszadeh. He asked her to pose like Vermeer’s Girl with a pearl earring, so here she is, looking just like that. The scarf is a beautiful blue. And she is beautiful.
There were two other portraits of writers come social commentators. First Annabelle Crabb by the New South Wales painter Jordan Richardson. I thought the pose was silly, and very unlike Annabelle’s public image but that is what the artist wanted. I don’t think it captures how femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive.
And here is Benjamin Law: happy sad, by Keith Burt who works out of Brisbane. While this is pretty traditional, I do think it captures the happy / sad of the title. As the artist says, reflecting someone who has confronted discrimination and injustice with a positively wicked sense of humour.
This painting by Anh Do was one of the biggest portraits on display and I think it’s very powerful. It’s called Art and war and is of another artist, George Gittoes. I’ve not heard of George, but according to the note he has been to Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan painting, photographing and filming human suffering as well as hope and resilience. Regardless of that backstory the strength of the subject shines through the portrait.
Here is another big and powerful portrait. Vibrant colour and clearly a strong personality. Tjuparntarri – women’s business by David Darcy is of Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward, an elder of the Warakurna community and Ngaanyatjarra people of Western Australia. The paintwork on her chest is a traditional design from women’s songs that she is entitled to perform.
And here is a quirky one. This is Idris Murphy and his dog Wally by Marc Etherington. Idris is another artist; he reminds me of the singer Jarvis Cocker. The image on his shirt is his dog Wally and the artist constructed the frame which contains 18 images of Idris. A bit gimmicky but fun.
I liked Vincent Namatjira’s Art is our weapon – portrait of Tony Albert . Albert is another artist with whom Namatjira has worked collaboratively. The camouflage background represents Tony as a soldier, fighting for Aboriginal Australia – art is his weapon.
I’m including this portrait, Meg and Amos (and Art) by Loribelle Spirovski because of the dog! It’s very colourful and beautifully painted but I think the expression on the face of the subject, Megan Washington, is too bland and not a moment of intimacy and depth between mother and child – maybe that is just me! Anyway it is lovely painting for all that – and I love Art the dog.
Jessica Ashton’s painting of the fashion designer Akira Isogawa, simply titled Akira is straightforward, but I agree with the artist when she says the the light in his warehouse was perfect. The large skylights added a lovely blue reflected light into the shadows. He looks so gentle. I love his designs which occasionally turn up at Blondies – but sadly above my price-point!
I liked this painting of yet another artist, Fiona Lowry by Benjamin Aitken. Fiona won the 2014 Archibald Prize with her portrait of Penelope Seidler. He wanted to paint her with a look of religious awe the way Michelangelo and Caravaggio may have done. I can’t quite see the Michelangelo and Caravaggio comparison but I like the work.
This painting greets you when you enter the gallery, which is appropriate I suppose given how closely the subject, Edmund Capon, is associated with the Archibald Prize. It’s an interesting painting by John Beard, titled Edmund (+ Bill). The Bill in the title is a reference to the Bill Henson photograph that you can see behind Edmund. It’s a photograph he owned and which was displayed in his house. It’s an interesting painting, made of oil and wax.
No review of the Archibald Prize would be complete without reference to the winner of the Packing Room Prize! So here it is. Through the looking glass by the Perth painter Tessa MacKay. It has a photographic quality which I generally don’t like but having the subject, David Wenham, behind a glass pane makes it interesting. It’s hyper realistic as shown by the plant in the vase and by the detail in the actual portrait of David – look at his hair! I liked the lights of the cafe behind him and the reflection in the window of the streetscape in front of him. And he has an interesting, introspective expression. It’s quite large.
A very fine outing indeed. You’ve got until the 5th of November to catch the exhibition.