The real show every year is The Sulman Prize for Genre Painting. Since no one is really certain what a “genre” painting is, it’s a total up-for-grabs fun fest that’s more about what’s happening in Australian art than anything else in the country. It’s also only judged by one person – an artist – and it makes for an eclectic mix but a generally much higher quality of finalists than the perverse Archibald. This year it was Aida Tomescu and the finalists ranged from eternal bridesmaids Joe Furlonger and Rodney Pople to Victor Rubin, Wendy Sharpe and Adam Cullen.
The good news about Sharpe is that she’s stopped using red in her paintings and now they are great. She has a suite of pictures in the Wynn that are excellent but her Rainy Night in the Sulman is fabulous. Gareth Sansom is also in the Sulman and proves that he was always a great painter, showing the young guns how to do grunge with a surface that looks like it was painted with Taubmans gloss and has a junk attached into a vaguely figurative work called Head With Stethoscope.
The real disappointment in this selection is Cullen’s Australian Nude (Social Benefit). It’s an OK picture but nothing like his recent best work which features similar Betty Page style nudes and pin ups done in horror show greens and blues. This work is just a little bit tame and disappointing. Must try harder.
McLean Edwards painting Epicem (Narcotic #1) is a brilliantly realised picture. His recent work has tended towards crowded picture planes and compressed, claustrophobic compositions. His early more popular work that featured sparser areas of solid colour and amusing bodies (faux portraits, kids picture book stuff) had given way to a restless, difficult period where Edwards experimented with colour and backgrounds, piling up his images one on top of the other. In Epicem, things seem to have settled down into a more complete and finished work. We loved the big festering blob of black paint in the top right corner, looking more like nasty spill than something deliberate.
The Sulman selection has been moved downstairs to Level 2 this year and we accidentally walked into what our companion called the “bought paintings” section of the gallery. We had been ruminating on the popularity of Gerhard Richter in Australian art because here was a picture that looked exactly like a Richter when it was pointed out that it was a Richter. Oops. What we need was coffee and a sugar hit. Maybe Allan Mitleman’s winning Sulman pictures reminded us of cake, but we were hitting that point in the hangover where you need something to eat, now.