Sunday, April 17, 2011


This year's winner of the Archibald Prize, by Ben Quilty. I think it's very good, not that I am in any way an informed art critic.

So then I went to have a look at the 1948 portrait of Margaret Olley by William Dobell, which also won the Archibald Prize in that year. They are quite different portraits, as you would expect, given they were painted by different artists and obviously Margaret Olley is many years older now. Interesting to look at the different styles though.

I found Ben Quilty's comments on the Art Gallery of NSW website about his 2011 winning entry somewhat amusing. Apparently most of his paintings to date have had strong masculine themes, but he said "Margaret has had such a powerful bearing on my career. She has asked me constantly for years to stop painting ugly skulls and paint something beautiful." So along with Margaret's portrait, he has also recently finished a series of paintings of his wife. Clearly the direction change has paid dividends for him.

In today's Sun Herald newspaper, there is another portrait, this one of the actor Matthew Newton (who was recently acquitted of criminal charges on the grounds of mental illness). It was painted by Agnes Bruck, who happens to be the wife of Newton's lawyer, Chris Murphy. This was entered in the Archibald Prize, but was instead selected as part of the alternative non-Archibald finalists' Salon des Refuses Exhibition. Regardless of what I think about Matthew Newton's personal life, I think this is also a good portrait. Somehow, it really seems to show what mental illness is like. It's something about the way she has captured the expression in his eyes, I think.

I wish I could paint or even draw people. Once many years ago I did a course on drawing faces but I quit halfway through because I couldn't get the dimensions right. I dabbled in painting a little bit after that but stuck to pictures of flowers and fruit because they weren't so complicated. Sometimes I wish I could go back and finish some of my unfinished works, but it is difficult to put aside large blocks of time to paint when you have small children....


Ben McLaughlin said...

Yep, sure is hard to find windows of painting time when you have small kids. I don't get out painting nearly as much as I'd like.

I'm glad Quilty won, it's a great picture. Really captured her too, which is pretty clever when you consider the apparent rough blobbiness of how the paints been applied. The white sections are apparantly just raw canvas.

Karen said...

Wow, that's interesting about the white sections. I want to see it for real now! Usually we get a travelling exhibition of selected portraits from the Archibald Prize at our local gallery later in the year, so hopefully that one will be in the show!