Of course, I’m nowhere near actually going to see the paintings in the flesh at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, even if the Chief Protector of Natives would let me depart Western Australia, which he won’t. To access it, here, I had to first check an automatically generated box to declare that I was not a racist. Fair enough, the Archibald Prize for Portraiture is hosted by the taxpayers’ gallery and administered by the Archibald Trust, and they can do whatever they please. If they want to nudge in a little reminder that the longstanding sober tradition of common access to Crown land in Australia is now kinda only operating under the blessing of an Aboriginal landed gentry, fair enough, and they’re hardly Robinson Crusoe there.
But we should also be reminded that the longstanding tradition of figurative art and craft has now been sundered to the new gods of cultural relativity. They reign throughout the land, from primary school right through to the halls walls of the rich and famous. In all seriousness, early childhood daycare is probably the last bastion of teaching Australians objective method, value, effort and efficacy in visual art practice.
But, my school days are long behind me, and my foreshortened art career at Uni also. In wanking on about this crop of anointed shortlistees, I’ve tried to avoid too much gossipy pop culture- although it’s valuable for context, and also to map the trends of what is catching the eye and acclaimed of the Arts Elite which administer so much of what we are told is Australian Culture- and give a bit of weight to the objective values of method, composition, colour, observation, execution- which should be drummed into every student as being the foundational bedrock of visual art for the Western Tradition and the open market alike. Just like in theatre, music, and poetry, in painting there is no mastery of the art without attention to the craft.
So Cats and Kittehs, if you’re up for a Sunday Afternoon Arts browse through the landscape with me as your Catty guide, log in a parallel window. Comments in the comments, and your punts for who should win please.
Claus Sangl’s oversized, backgroundless, gimmicky poster art photograph of New Zealander Taika Waititi is presented first, and underscored as the winner of the pre-emptive Packing Room Prize. It’s a buzzing reminder of the debauchery of the Archibald Prizes foundational trust, which calls for a painted portrait of an eminent Australian of Arts and Letters. It’s also a signal that the once down-to-earth manually labouring packers have now joined the official judging panel in celebrating kitsch and currency.
Mostafa Azimatabar paints his own portrait, with a Fauvist bruise of colour worn on his face and a US penitentiary issue orange loose-collared prison shift. Early on in my 2022 Archibald foray, this piece moved me to resist the temptation to Google context, when a few keystrokes confirmed my hunch that he style is a non-resident brutalized by Australia’s reasonable and humane enforcement of its own sovereignty. The style is Sukumaran, the subject is Boochani- the egotistical “K12345” title citing his case number lacks any punch of “Smith W, 6079”. A top three tip for winner, then.
Natasha Bieniek paints Patricia Piccinini in a latexy soft-slick style which is a clever echo of Piccinini’s oeuvre, but she still manages to put a lot of cheeky charm into the sitter’s ¾ gaze, without the face departing from the rest of the setting. I do actually really like this, and I’d love to see it up close.
Daniel Boyd has spat out a dot-matrix print of three unidentities. Why on earth is this included?
There’s a curvy and coiffed woman, looking down through her specs at the viewer of this cartoon, and dressed in a newsprint pants-suit. There is no background, and a bird flying into a corner. It’s Sally McManus, blokey union nabob, and it’s maybe a page 30 political illustration from a broadsheet, and maybe the editor has chipped Joanna Braithwaite about the crammed and lumpy left arm, and told her to lift her game or she won’t get another commission for the Friday profile piece.
I haven’t heard of Keith Burt or his sitter Bridie Gillman, but at a glance it’s a very real sensitive piece of a very real sensitive person. Sure, there’s some brushstrokes and a click-fill back wall, but the pose is alive and temporal, and the post-impressionist balance of cool and warm toned dabs of colour give a transparency and vulnerability to the body in light. Good hands. Bad pants. But, if a painter can carry hands and heads with engagement and sensitivity, I don’t even notice fill-in work.
Ann Cape has painted from a telephone snap- evident in the distorted foreshortening of the sitter’s legs- and acted on the brain-snap idea of slapping in an inhuman cutout portraying the pun of the title, which both ruins the portrait and hides his identity.
Yvette Coppersmith has painted a painting titled Ella Simons seated, of Ella Simons, seated. I really can’t be fagged getting any cleverer than that.
Emily Crockford- Freo Markets art.
“Day 77” has immediately hit me with déjà vu- did Jonathon Dalton punt in another Fantauzzo-style photorealist room with weird white floorboards last year? It must be soul-crushing laboring for a signature style, Day 77 might be Dalton’s cry for help.
Speaking of Dalton-s, although the adult male of the trio is in Bond-esque black lounge-judo gear, I can’t be damned zooming in to check out if he has any Timothy tension in his features. I’ve got no doubt there won’t be any wrinkles. The toddler has oodles more warmth in her than the artsy adults.
Ahn Do will forever be an Archibald regular, for sentimental reasons. His innoffensive and all-surface slap-happy style, and safe choice of writers’ week subjects, will mean he’s the artist version of their ABC coverage of New Year’s Eve fireworks. Peter Garret suits him to a t.
Is there a phenomenon happening with the shimmering doubling of eyeballs in popular art these days? It’s a good gimmick, at least for me it’s quite hypnotic- I can clearly remember being stunned by a “portfiff” in last year’s Archies which did it vertically, a supernatural being in the film “Doctor Strange” which had close rolling waves refreshing his whole face, and even further back the cover art of Terry Pratchett’s “The Light Fantastic” which portrayed the four-eyed Twoflower. I never settled on exactly what Pratchett was implying when his characters were bamboozled by Twoflower’s eyes, and the cover art did not settle my nerves.
If any Cat can find or invent a term, the closer the the visual-psych cortex the better, I’d be fascinated.
Blak Douglas did something like this in the past. I wonder if his sitters feel like they’re just being put through the mill- it must be like sacrificing your arm to a tattoo’ist who’s just going to do his schtick to you no matter what, dark or light, young or old. It might be so hot right now, but I’m sure it will date. Love it or no, poster-art shallowness of Douglas’ thang is too quick, and too shallow, to hold value over time. There are vinyl sticker clouds, an airport shop Papunya-dot shawl, and the almost- almost!- detailed face of some woman, scowling out of what could be the cut-out hole where seaside tourists put their head through.
I like Lisa McCune. She was on the precipice of being Logie-bait Girl Next Door for ever, being small and pretty and the cornerstone a police procedural-drama-romance-soap, but she knuckled down and kept on with a remarkable work ethic and wide spread of stages. This painting doesn’t do her justice, the huge black void threatens to swallow her up- and the lack of similar darkness around her body ruins the illusion of verity as a painting.
Samuel Johnson leaps off the screen. Subtle chiaroscuro gives him a have-a-beer-and-a-yarn immediacy, and his irises glow beneath the irregular forehead and gritty face of an outdoorsy regular. For some reason, there’s a lady’s hand, lit from another direction to the head, holding a ye olde black-n-white photo which I assume is a mid-century wallet portrait. Is there meant to be three layers to this photo? Is there some sort of traumatic migrant narrative in Samuel’s story? C’mon Jeremy Eden, you’ve got the paints and a big tube of black, try a bit harder. And please, just five more minutes on the neck, seriously.
Yuriyal, Eric might be a real person- I’ll guess dancer, from the black singlet, tatts, topknot and buff- but David Fenoglio has created a paper-thin cutout. There’s a lack of darkness and depth, particularly on the right side of his manscaped head- the background may be stage backdrop screens, but they place the mannequin in an empty and anonymous vertical plane- and the pose selected has Eric cramped and leaning backwards… it might be a stolen moment in a vital kinetic dancer’s existence, but it does not hint to me that David spent any amount of time trying to get to know Eric, bringing out some depth or generosity. Maybe it’s my own bias, where I think hipsters are the least individual individuals out there.
Peter Wegner looks like a bloke of discernment, either ratcheting down on his own thoughts, or prosecuting an object of attention, to the left of the viewer. A good painting- the brushwork here and elsewhere hints that a return to tonal composition might be happening. Lacks background though. Put a potplant back there for Feng Shui, Hong Fu, or a shelf of books.
Eliza Gosse- somewhere near home. That’s the title, not even alive enough to warrant capital letters.
Robert Hannaford- Hirsuite self-portait. So alike to Wang Out Self-Portrait, from the immediate past, that he should be ashamed to enter it, and the judges ashamed to admit it into the finalists.
Tsering Hannaford has painted a morbidly obese youth, in bolshie youth activist black t-shirt. Another youthful hand reaches from someone out-of-frame to hold Sally Scales’ tattoo’d wrist, and I hate to think how long Sally will be around for. It’s technically o.k. I suppose, and Sally seems at peace and even happy… the chair on which she leans her weight is rushed, the background draping cloth is fudged.
Katherine Hattam writes Helen Garner Can Speak French. Disqualified.
Hego, AO, which obviously stands for Artliners Only. Drawing. Disqualified.
Yoshio Honjo, who has Japanese heritage, has painted a pastiche of a Japanese watercolour, portraying Yumi Stynes, who has Japanese heritage. She might think it’s licensed from both directions, but it does nothing to present Yumi’s life or mind to the viewer. I would suggest a full-length nude… being Asian-ish, Yumi still probably has a good decade to get it out for that one.
This one- pastiche. Disqualified.
Tim Tszyu might seem like a two-dimensional choice for a subject- born into a boxing dynasty, he is a boxer. Distinguished in Arts and Letters he ain’t. Ksenija Hrnjak gives him a sponge down… no lines, or even muscles, emerge from the brush. There’s a rabbit-like lack of focus to the unpunched face, and no I’d never say that to it. The background is a five-second wallpaper squiggle… if it doesn’t sell off the AGNSW wall, it’s ready to go straight to the t-shirt printer.
Brooke looks nice. OK, she looks like I’m off my chops on shrooms at a nightclub, and I can just barely register that she’s smiling, although her significant other Jimmy isn’t. Laura Jones has fixed her eyeliner perfectly for her, but let the paint stream down the canvas off her hand. Messy mannerism, it’s the wrist-tatts of the modern painter.
I will decline the bait of the (disabled artist) hustle. I’m bored. Solomon Kammer has presented a sketchy boring painting of a boring subject. Try harder.
If Abdul Abdullah is a worthily interesting subject, then Jasper Knight needs to do him more justice that Freo Market Art.
I don’t know who Courtney or Shane are in Kym Leutwyler’s poster art piece. At a guess, I’d put this one at eight foot by six. I could probably live with it, but only because the pair seem like harmless clotheshorses who won’t be making conversation.
Liz Laverty I could live with. Looks bright and willing. Looks like we both read the same paper too, the weekender, hey what’s that written there on the glossy? Too late, too much text on the canvas. Disqualified.
Dapeng Liu- from memory, a different version of the same painting from previous. Don’t go thinking a complex arsty title gets you out of the rut of automatic replication, Liu.
Now, Irrational is a gooooood painting. It may well came from a photo, but the pose is alive and engaged at the same time as being sustainable, so I’ll give Kathrin Longhurst the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to say how damn hard it is doing character portraits of the young, working as you are without wrinkles or weight in the face, but this looks observant without being mechanical, and there’s a brilliant illusion of the sitter looking into the viewer with her right eye but then carrying through to a thousand-yard stare with her left. Ignore the left ear and poster-art background.
I’d like to see it win something.
Glenn Murcutt is not really monotonal, so Fiona Lowry is disqualified.
There’s a habit called Classical Amputation, where artists will portray a midriff, head, boobs and bum a la the Venus de Milo, but leave off the hard bits. Matthew Lynn has done such a bodge job of the dancing personage he’s painting that he may as well have left them off, or trimmed the canvas to size. It may, or may not, be a miraculous capture of facial features in a few lashed strokes.
Catherine McGuinness- Freo Market art.
Noel McKenna has drawn a bloke with a dog, a Doggies scarf, and a magpie on his balcony. It could be just about any bloke. Fail.
There’s a woman doing a Marlene Dietrich pose, head in hands, maybe with red long gloves on. She looks very arty and theatrical. The painting is very arty and theatrical, with bold twists of form riding over the torso. The impasto could be a metaphor for the greasepaint and costumery which which carry a working artist through a life as pantomime apparitions. I’m guessing Dana is a dame of the stage. Good painting, but it should be a study for a better- larger and less mannered- painting.
There was a truly bad and rushed painting of Deborah Conway, head distorted by iPhone lens, in the recent past. This one is still rushed, with an unforgivably unfinished background, though it might be better posed, and giving her some life in the face. Lewis Miller should have been a bit more patient, there’s always next year, and Conway’s star isn’t going to burn out like other shimmery chanteuses.
Faux-naivete has won Vincent Namatjira heaps of success. This self-portrait has him comfy in his luxury, plush chair, work boots resting upon bucket of industrial paint, Gala night opening black suit and white shirt, token dingo for the tourist market. Smiling broadly and totally at peace with the world, and why wouldn’t he be?
It might be the fault of viewing all these on a computer screen, but I’m getting a weird feeling of vertigo with many these paintings. There will be a central area to them with good figurative illusion, where the eye normally orients itself- heads and hands- but as the eye wanders over the canvas, the painting falls apart to hatched strokes, dribbles, or airbrushed void- the sandy clean fill of the painter’s realm. It’s lazy, and ugly too.
Hugh and Deborah-Lee Furniss-Jackman have got real, focused, grounded hand, with their wedding rings to the fore. Paul Newton must admire Hugh’s muscles- relaxed and present, with a bit of vein blowout, his head is man-next-door honest and open. Deborah-Lee’s face falls outside the area of effort, it’s airbrushed and lifeless. There’s a lot more to be disappointed by, an awkward leg-furniture junction from Hugh, a patch of forensic focus for one- but only one! Of Deb’s feet.
I truly wonder what Paul Newton is thinking, sending this out. Jackman is royalty, worldwide- surely a good portrait of him will be an eternal feature in some pile, theatre or gallery anywhere in the trans-Pacific, and his recommendation could put bread on the table for Newton for decades to come. So, please- a background, anything other than grey soft hatches, get interested in feet, tackle the problems of flattening a six-foot plus bloke into two dimensions. Tell Deb that her fans want to see the human behind the botox.
Megan Pellman- Freo Markets art, post-menopausal sentiment, with writing to boot. Some turps-sniffing battler is mad as hell that this dross got through the gatekeepers.
James Powditch did this sort of graphics-suite affirmation shite last year, with another ABC eminence grease, Kerry O’Brien if I recall. I disqualified him then, disqualified now.
Jude Ray, The Big Switch- portrait of Dr Saul Griffith. OK painting I guess, but you’ll need a much heavier and longer cord than that one sonny. Like, degrees of magnitude.
Jordan Richardson- Venus. Pastiche- disqualified.
Rachey In the Mirror is a fright. There’s that spider-eyes thing again. Thom Roberts is no Tom Roberts, not by a long shot, but I suppose faux-naivete is an understandable phenomenon of a culture which holds itself in contempt.
“’You were my biggest regret’: diary entry 1806” is a very long title for a very dull painting.
I’ll do this one from the outside in: there’s an op-shop opulent frame painted, a dark rectangle painted within that, some white ghosty bits painted straight out of the white tube onto that void, and a vague woman sat down underneath. She’s looking up absently, her hands are badly done, her lap is hardly even an afterthought. Wendy Sharpe might be famous for something, but this is pretty thin gruel.
Another look at Waititi by Stangl. My initial hatred hid from me the camera-lens composition of foregrounded hands, turned-away selfie head, and anonymous Global Art Citizen Opening Night Dinner Suit. It’s not painting, it’s hardly portraiture.
The man in the red scarf: Wayne Tunnicliffe looks like a closely observed piece, with an intriguing focus and back-framed light, at least until the eye wanders away from the person and the viewer realizes that the bloke lives in an anonymously arty Magritte-Smart landscape. In Archibaldia, every background is Colorbond Shale Grey: sky, walls, gymns, mirrors, bedrooms, living rooms.
Ross Townsend’s “Staying Strong” is butted up immediately against it, by dint of alphabetical surname order- it could just about be overlaid for a bit of high school surrealism fun.
Avraham Vofsi looks like he paints with the same inconsistent focus that plagues most of the other straight figurative works. Safran’s head is present and deeply framed, but his giant’s head which he holds is bothered out by a brown wash. His hands are reasonable, but he has two club feet. The piece comes with a gilded frame… which makes the whole thing look like a pieced that was patched together in two different High School elective classes. Or three, if you count RE.
Dylan Alcott is this year’s obligatory AOTY inclusion. “AOTY” is short for Australian Of The Year. The effort-focus composition of this is a little higgledy piggledy- Felix Von Dallwitz has executed a magnificent pair of hands, large and capable, portraying the machinery of Alcott’s locomotion adorned with the jewelry of his success. But inexplicably, his face is fudged- brief, aloof, cold- and hammily brushed in. By the time I try to look into the background and realize that there is none, the painting has failed to carry the illusion.
Natasha Walsh- Dear Brett- pastiche. Fail.
There’s a secondary pastiche hidden in there- Klimt’s Danae- that’s for the trainspotters. Still fails. There’s twenty million of us in a continent’s worth of landscapes and lives and lights- do something original.
Michael Zavros went to the British Museum and turned a photo into this non-portrait. If you’re stuck for inspiration, try the National Portrait Gallery instead.
Caroline Zilinsky- The seated pair look like a safely interchangeable cookie-cutter camp couple from reality TV, but Caroline Zilinsky has printed them off in a flat two-dimensional cartoon style which makes it looks like a still from a Nickelodeon soap. They- the humans who provided the template- are probably famous for decorating empty houses, and this piece probably will be too, with a high quality 200-print run being distributed to main-street galleries from the Sunshine Coast down to Oxford Street. There’s no clue to the method or craft, or any struggle or sweat on behalf of the craftsperson, in the work as far as I can see on the screen. It’s a good bookend to another overtly pop-culture focused and commercial year at the Archibald.