Archibald Prize finalists include portraits of many well known Australians

Australia’s most prestigious portraiture competition the Archibald prize has announced its 2020 finalists, and always there’s an interesting mixture of well known Australians who have been captured on the canvases.

The prize is the most competitive portrait competition in Australia and draws thousands of visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales each year. The subjects in portraits can range from celebrities to politicians and fellow artists.

The award is for the best portrait, “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics”. While hundreds of artists spend months working on portraits only a select few make it through to the final round.

Among this year’s finalists is a portrait of actor Magda Szubanski in character as Sharon Strzelecki from the television program Kath & Kim. Szubanski was painted by artist Wendy Sharpe who has made it though to the finals on seven previous occasions. She won the prize in 1996 with a self-portrait.

Sharpe explains that she originally had a very different concept for the painting but changed her approach after speaking to the actor about her current and past life.

“After an intense conversation with Magda in my Sydney studio, I decided to change my original concept for the portrait and painted her as a despairing version of her comic character/alter ego Sharon. Magda is haunted by her father’s traumatic experiences in World War II in the Polish resistance, and by current world events.” Sharpe said.

Nicholas Harding’s portrait of journalist David Marr has taken a long time to come to fruition. The artist has been a finalist an astounding 19 times and previously won the award in 2001. He’s lived down the road from Marr for decades, giving him great accessibility to his subject, but getting the portrait just right has taken many years.

“David first sat for me at his home in 2011, and sittings in my studio occurred occasionally in the years since. A number of portraits have been attempted, failed and destroyed. David has been a generous and patient sitter. This portrait was painted in my studio following “lockdown” meals together, using material gathered over the past nine years and memory.” Harding said.

For Wendy Spindler it’s the first time she’s been featured in competition, her subject is musician Deborah Conway. Spindler has been a fan of the musicians work for a long time and decided to contact her after seeing her perform live. She captured Conway sitting in the back garden of her Melbourne home.

Adam Spencer was the choice of subject for Samuel Rush Condon, marking his fourth time amongst the finalists. The artist cited Spencer’s ‘great face’ as the reason he wanted to paint him.

“I wanted to capture a moment of contemplation and introspection – Adam not performing, but with his guard down. I think I’ve captured that moment successfully, especially in his eyes.” he said of his entry.

Queer artist Nick Stathopoulos will be hoping his portrait of singer Ngaiire will take him all the way through this year’s competition. He’s made the finals now on six occasions, and won the People’s Choice award in 2016 with his portrait of  Sudanese refugee lawyer Deng Adut. Stathopoulos paints massive paintings in a hyper-realistic style.  In 2017 an ABC documentary series followed the artist as he painted actress Isla Fisher for the competition, but that year his entry didn’t make the cut.

Another artist making the cut for the first time is Scott Marsh, he painted his friend Adam Briggs.

“Briggs is something of a modern-day Renaissance man – rapper, record label owner, comedy writer, actor, author and staunch ambassador for Aboriginal rights,’ says Marsh. ‘He has an incredible work ethic and makes me feel lazy, which is a good thing!” Marsh said.

This year the Packing Room Prize, which is voted on by the attendants who unload and curry hundreds of paintings to the judges chamber, was given to Western Australian painter and writer Meyne Wyatt. He’s the first indigenous artist to win any of the awards in the prize’s 99 year history.

It’s been a big year for Wyatt, earlier this year he caught the nation’s attention when he delivered a passionate monologue about indigenous rights on the ABC’s Q&A program.

View all the winners at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

OIP Staff


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