Archibald #2: The Starting Line Up

Art Life , Reviews Mar 23, 2004 No Comments

God, how we love that racing analogy! Way, way back in the early 90s the whole Archibald-as-horse-race thing got started and every year the Herald gives odds on who are the favourites and who are the long shots. We predict (with no odds) that they’ll have done it again no later than Wednesday this week.

The major problem with the analogy is that while it seems strangely apt, there’s actually nowhere you can place bets, nor are there scratchings and the track always remains the same; heavy. The Archibald is antithetical to light and breeze and Cherry Hood and Adam Cullen’s wins are the exception to the rule because for the most part it’s the turgid application of big paint and heavy, gilt frames and worthy subjects that rule the day rather than paintings that are actually any good.

Never mind, because this year things are different! There is an excellent portrait of Martin Browne Art Dealer by McLean Edwards that’s different enough to stand out yet traditional enough to keep the “contemporary is shit” grumblers happy. It’s a fine looking picture and has all of the artist’s trademarks – puppy dogs, toy aeroplanes, crowded frame – but judging from the repro on the AGNSW web site, it’s finely balanced too. We’re going way out on a limb here, but we reckon Edwards is gonna win this thing! (Maybe).

We gently chastised Henry Mulholand for his self promotion but that’ all forgotten now because his picture of Nicky Meyers isn’t half bad – not half bad at all. We’re also attracted to Rodney Pople’s Self Portrait After Henry Raeburn, that pictures the artist in Old Sydney Town gear ice skating opposite the Sydney Opera House. We like the style and we like the clothes. Pamela Tippet’s Self Portrait is in a similar retro style, and we applaud the backward looking nature of a contemporary portrait that acknowledges the history of the genre while still managing to get some element of modern intimacy.

There are some shockers too. David Bromley’s portrait of McLean Edwards is terrible, illustrative in a bad way, looking as though it belongs in the 1980s (the bad 1980s, not the cool 80s) and we’re not just saying that because we had David Bromley mixed up with David Bromfield (which we did and we apologise – they can’t be more different – one is a painter from South Australia and the other is a flat cap wearing, ex-pat Englishman who tirelessly complains about Australian art). Henry Van den Wildenberg The Story Teller – Mem Fox is the kind of art you see in framing shops and would someone please give Kerrie Lester a prize so she’ll stop entering the friggin Archibald?

Upset victories for the prize may come in the form of Nicolas Harding’s Studio Visit: Rusty drops by with Blade & Tony (lots of paint, worthy subject matter), Craig Ruddy’s David Gulpilil, Two Worlds (just worthy, nothing else good here) and Geoffrey Dyer’s Graeme Murphy (although we had predicted pre-entry media coverage would disqualify it and we stand by our rash claims!). Cullen’s Margaret Throsby is a good looking painting but it’s hard to imagine that the judges would give it to him again when his much earlier entry of Mikey Robbins in 1999 was very similar. A painting has to look like a painting to win!

Then again, someone else may win it.

Andrew Frost

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