Portrait of an artist

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?

These are a few of my favourite things

These are a few of my favourite things

I’ve just returned from a fantastic trip to New York with my lovely daughter. A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) which re-opened the day we arrived after having been closed for six months for a refurb.

MOMA is huge (five floors of art and sculpture), so you need to be selective about how you spend your time there. We spent five hours there and had to stop to refuel twice. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

There are so many famous works it’s tempting to photograph everything you see, but after a while you realise that no-one is going to be that interested in seeing your slightly crooked photo of Monet’s Hydrangeas, so I tried to take photos of art that I found interesting, quirky or powerful.

I was amused to see that all of my favourites featured people, many of them looking into the distance. I’m still puzzled about why I am drawn to these particular images but perhaps they have an air of mystery or wistfulness about them that I find appealing. I don’t suppose it really matters why you like something, just that it evokes some kind of response in your mind or in your heart.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces. I think they all share a certain simplicity.

The Moon by Tarsila do Amaral 1928
Dyke by Catherine Opie 1993
Graciela Iturbide (self portrait) 1979

I’m not an expert and I’ve never been one to buy artwork but I recently purchased a print by Holly Harper, an Australian artist. It took many hours of looking before I chose this print which is located in our bedroom so that I see it first thing in the morning. It never fails to make me happy.

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red by Holly Harper