The portrait as a record of an individual’s personal appearance in his or her lifetime, has long been regarded as one of the most successful and enduring genres of art, while changing style and format through all the successive movements of art over the centuries, from antiquity to the modern day.
Over the 50+ years of my life spent in Sydney, it was always a highlight for me to visit the Art Gallery of NSW and view the latest winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, all offered on an annual basis.
A few years ago, they added in the Young Archie, which is also very appealing.
The Archibald Prize, now perhaps the most prestigious of all it seems, at least via its public face, was awarded first in 1921.
The Wynne is much older, having been first awarded in 1897, for ‘the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours, or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists’.
The Sulman is very different again. Awarded to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.
The style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract, which certainly suits contemporary artists of our time.
Each year Art Gallery of NSW Trustees invite a guest artist to judge the best work. Fiona Lowry selected 27 finalists for the Sulman Prize this year.
On hearing his work, The First Girl That Knocked On His Door, had been awarded the 2019 Sulman Prize winner, McLean Edwards said: “I’m thrilled to have been selected by guest judge Fiona Lowry as the winner of the 2019 Sulman Prize. Fiona is held in universal high regard as an artist. To receive affirmation from her for my work is incredible.”
The regionally based Tarrawarra Museum of Art will present an exclusive viewing of the finalists and winners of the Archibald Prize 2019, for Victorians and visitors alike to approach the exhibition first-hand for themselves, working out which of the 51 works being showcased, they enjoy the most.
This year significant Australian subjects, include former ballet dancer and director of Queensland Ballet Li Cunxin by Jun Chen; Anh Do’s portrait of artist George Gittoes; Vincent Namatjira’s tribute to his friend and fellow artist Tony Albert; and popular media commentator Annabel Crabb by Jordan Richardson.
There are many fine works to see.
Sydney artist Tony Costa winning portrait of artist and Zen Buddhist Lindy Lee is all about her depth of feelings. The subject’s meditative pose takes centre stage, with the background around her coloured in muted shades of red, suggesting her focus when practicing her religion, is at the core of her belief system.
While full of energy, the background is also quietly painted, which also tells us she is reflecting on life past and present. The future she knows is out of her hands, but what she has to do is give herself the strength to see whatever its challenges are, through.
In awarding the 2019 winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, Board president David Gonski said, “It wasn’t an easy year to pick, there was a lively and thoughtful debate, but in the end the judges were unanimous in their choices.”
Must admit to loving the reflective nature and qualities of the portrait awarded the Packing Room Prize, that of renowned actor and producer David Wenham by Tessa MacKay.
Technically, this is truly quite marvellous… David sits pensively behind glass, which has reflected in it what is happening outside the café, across the street and the buildings, which are all around.
The two are very different.
Finalists in the Wynne Prize are eligible for the Roberts Family Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Prize, which was awarded to ethe Yirrkala-based artist Nongirrna Marawili.
She is the second recipient of this prize, established in 2018.
Marawili depicts her country, Baraltja, which is north of Cape Shield in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Her wondrous work Pink lightning presents the ‘cyclonic, crocodile-infested waters with huge tides and ripping currents…
…rocks are set in deep water between the electric ‘curse’ the lighting snake spits into the sky and the sea spray from the ocean waves trying to shift the rocks’ immovable foundation’.
Sylvia Ken’s Seven Sisters, which saw her taking home the Wynne Prize is also a story of country.
Ken comes from the Amata community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in South Australia.
Her family are traditional owners for all the significant sites, where the Seven Sisters story takes place.
“I have worked for years at Tjala Arts in Amata community. I paint the story of my country – the Seven Sisters story… important for me and for so many women across the APY lands. I am so honoured to be recognised for my wok and… I share my prize with everyone at my art centre and all the women who I work alongside …” Ken said.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand noted that Sylvia Ken’s painting has extraordinary visual depth. “This complex work recalls the starry skies of the Milky Way as much as it does the rest of the land where the Seven Sisters story takes place, on Sylvia’s country where her family are traditional owners,” Brand said.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019