What a pleasure it was to wander through the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a private viewing of the much famed, often controversial and always inspiring Archibald Prize exhibition. Regarded as one of Australia’s most high profile portraiture exhibition and art prize, the annual competition attracted over 800 submissions this year from locally based talent, many of whom are globally recognised and is visited by both locals and overseas guests.
When Jules Francois Archibald (1855 – 1919) died, his bequest funded a national portrait painting competition, aiming to foster portraiture, support artists and perpetuate the memory of great Australians. Undoubtedly, he had no idea at the time how many magnificent works of art would be created and how many Australians from all walks of life would have their faces proudly hung within the confines of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
How the Gallery of New South Wales trustees whittled all those entries down to 39 finalists is beyond us (a bit like choosing your favourite shirt from the Philippe Perzi Vienna collection). The secrecy around the judging of this competition seems akin to a papal conclave but then again, that’s the beauty of art. It’s not an exact science; it is subjective, individual and purely a matter of taste – much like fashion. Fortunately, there is a look, a colour and a style out there to suit everyone and I think this is why the Archibald is such a popular exhibition in Australia – because even to those of us who aren’t art aficionados, there’s something there for everyone to appreciate.
The team from Philippe Perzi Vienna had many personal favourites amongst this year’s finalists, but the official nod from the trustees went to a large watercolour and acrylic on canvas, of actor Hugo Weaving by Del Kathryn Barton. Definitely a worthy winner.
Being lovers of detail and colour at Philippe Perzi Vienna, what stopped us dead in our tracks whilst meandering through the exhibition was the vivid hues and brush strokes and multitude of techniques used to create these masterpieces – which we should add are often on a grand scale – the largest being a wall sized portrait of Asher Keddie by Vincent Fantauzzo measuring 174cm x 304cm. Asher is indeed a beautiful woman, and comfortable with her image portrayed on the small screen, but it would be interesting to know how she feels seeing her visage on canvas on such a grand scale.
Other personal favourites and pictured here, include Peter Daverinton’s self-portrait and TV Moore by David Griggs, though we are not pretending know who TV Moore is. However, if we had the immensely difficult job of picking a winner, it would be Michael Zavros’ self portrait titled “Bad Dad”. Narcissus from ancient Greek mythology appears to be part of the inspiration and adds great depth to the underlying meaning of the painting. But we have to admit that the vibrant colours, attention to detail and photo like quality makes this one of our Archibald favourites this year.
It wasn’t just the Archibald finalists that caught our attention. The Sir John Sulman Prize finalists, which was concurrently held and on display, had a plethora of captivating paintings. Carla Fletcher’s painting of Kevin, the 10-year old Clydesdale horse bred to pull beer barrels but thinks he is human as a result of being hand-reared, touched our hearts. It also surprised us by highlighting that Clydesdales are at risk of extinction. Other Sulman finalists that we loved and pictured include Annette Bezor’s painting of Kate Moss ; Marc De Jong’s “Wall Street 2” and Kate Bergin’s painting of a pink flamingo in Wonderland.
The Sulman Prize winner by Victoria Reichelt of Bambi looking somewhat lost in a library, not only reflects our changing relationship with books, but reminds us how easily one can be overwhelmed with choice, especially when you don’t know what you are looking for (something that can easily happen when looking through fabrics, and something we try to alleviate by selecting the finest and most beautiful Italian fabrics for our clients).
No matter what your style or preferences may be, you will be sure to gravitate to something and the beauty of such exhibitions really lies in the range of diversity and individuality, much like each collection from Philippe Perzi Vienna. The beautifully finished product is an amalgamation of hours of thought, patience and consideration. Each piece is unique, and colour choice, texture and size are of paramount importance.