From Andrew Frost…
Just as certainly as the change of the seasons inevitably arrive, or the rising of the sun itself confirms the day, so too we witness the return of the art world’s annual festival – The Archibald Prize for Portraiture, and its two attendant companion prizes, the Wynne Prize for landscape painting or figure sculpture, and the Sir John Sulman Prize for genre painting.
Trying to make sense of why one painting wins over another is one of life’s enduring mysteries but the Archibald’s tendency to maddening inconsistency and scant regard for its own rules boils down to not much more than the prize being the final decision by a group of people all with their own views of what should win. So too the Wynne Prize, the other award judged by the Art Gallery of NSW’s trustees. The Sulman, however is another matter, the finalists being the choice and the winner the decision of a single judge, in this case the painter Jenny Watson who has selected a reliably idiosyncratic group of works.
So let’s not bother who will win, or who has won, but simply ask – what’s good? In the Archibald Mike Barnard‘s portrait of his late mother You Beautiful Fighter is a standout as is Mitch Cairns‘s Reg Richardson AM, a delightfuly minimal painting that seems small in comparison to the prize’s usual giantism, but has huge appeal. Fiona Lowry‘s Penelope Seidler is a deserving work, with a mixture of appropriate subject and treatment. Among the more eccentric works is Sally Ross‘s Harvey and probably one of the most grandiose and bizarre works ever entered, Peter Davrington‘s magnificent self portrait The Golden City Has Ceased.
The Wynne offers some surprises this year, no more so than Michael Johnson‘s Oceania Right Now, the veteran artist synthesising a new painting style from old and new works. So too Guy Maestri, a former Archibald winner, turning in what seems like an atypical landscape in his East West Cutting while also of note is James Powditch‘s rather gorgeous Erebus.
The Sulman selection veers between mild mannered expressionism and tightly controlled photorealism, with a few sitting somewhere in between. Of the first type, Henry Curchod‘s Mild Turbulence, a crashing 747 on fire, evokes the ghost of Brett Whiteley, while there are many examples of the latter photorealist style including strong works by Tony Lloyd, Michael Peck, Joel Rea, Halinka Orszulok and others. Leo Coyte‘s Untitled (Paint Pile) comes from a whole other place, something slightly German and funny in the cartoonish subject and style, a refreshing something else in an oddball selection.
Until September 28
Art Gallery of NSW, The Domain
Pic: Fiona Lowry, Penelope Seidler, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 225 x 185 cm.