Portrait of an artist

My husband and I were lucky enough to spend a few days in Sydney last week. People often recommend being a tourist in your own city and I have to admit, it’s a lot of fun. Even though I used to work in an office near to where we stayed, it was a long time ago, so it was quite an adventure to be in the big smoke.

We stayed in the Fullerton Hotel next to the old GPO, right in the middle of the CBD and close to everything. It’s a beautiful old building, tastefully restored. The Salvos were having their Red Shield Appeal launch in the Grand Ballroom and it was great to hear a brass band echoing through the building. We could see the old clock tower from our room and the bells rang every quarter hour and on the hour, but I suspect they are silent between midnight and dawn because they didn’t disturb our sleep.

The clock tower in the GPO in Martin Place.
The clock tower at the GPO in Martin Place

We were in Sydney to see Hamilton (the musical) which was fantastic, but we also went to the Archibald’s while we were there. The Archies (as they are known colloquially) is the biggest art competition in Australia and a cool $100,000 in prize money goes to the winner of the best portrait.

This year the Archies celebrated their 100 year anniversary, so there was a separate exhibition featuring winners from the last 100 years. It was fascinating to see how styles (and tastes) have changed over the last century. The Archies are always controversial because everyone has strong opinions on what they think should have won. To counter this, the Trustees of the Art Gallery established the Packing Room Prize in 1992, in which the staff who receive the portraits and install them in the gallery vote for their choice of winner. The prize money is a mere $1,500, but I think it appeals to our sense of egalitarianism that ordinary people get a say in the matter. There is also a People’s Choice award, so you can vote for your favourite portrait after you’ve been to the exhibition.

As a person with no artistic talent whatsoever, I’m in awe of people who can paint and draw, but there’s a big difference between admiring a work for its technical brilliance and admiring a work because it makes you feel some kind of emotion. I thought this portrait of Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu was brilliantly executed, but there were other paintings that stole my heart.

A portrait of Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu.
Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu

There’s something about this portrait of Tané Andrews by Nick Stathopoulos that’s very moving, but I’m not sure what it is. According to the description, Mr Andrews is an artist who works in a gallery near to where Nick Stathopoulos lives. I especially loved the white shirt. You can almost feel its soft silkiness.

Portrait of the artist Tané Andrews wearing a white shirt painted by Nick Stathopoulos.
The white shirt – portrait of Tané Andrews by Nick Stathopoulos

It wasn’t until I got home that I realised that Nick Stathopoulos also painted the portrait below, which I think is magnificent. It won the People’s Choice Award in 2016, so even though I can’t articulate my feelings about these works, I guess I know what I like.

A painting of Deng Adut by Nick Stathopoulus
Sudanese refugee and lawyer Deng Adult painted by Nick Stathopoulos

Here’s a link to all the finalists in the 2021 Archibald’s. Which one would you vote for?

4 thoughts on “Portrait of an artist

    1. Thanks Val. There’s a documentary on TV here about finding and choosing the best portraits from the last 100 years. They talk to artists and discuss issues such as gender imbalance. It’s fascinating.

  1. I like both of your choices but I also like the Jun Chen work and the Karen Black piece. I don’t like the works to be too photographic nor too naive. I would really like to see the Archibald winners sometime – I wish it would come to Perth!

    1. Interesting choices! I agree that my choices are quite photographic. It was great to see the paintings in situ but you do get a pretty good idea of their power from the art gallery website. The only thing you can’t really judge is the scale. Some works are huge and some are tiny.

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