An initiative to bring the finalists of the 2014 Archibald Prize to the Northern Rivers, with the exhibition shared between two galleries – the Lismore Regional Gallery, and Lone Goat Gallery in Byron Bay – gives Northern Rivers residents the chance to catch us with this much loved annual art event, writes Candida Baker.
As a regular Archibald visitor one of the main attractions for me is the diverse and eclectic styles of painting one encounters as a viewer. I think perhaps I am not alone here – now in its 93rd year the Archibald attendances continue to grow, and perhaps in part it’s because it’s seen to be one of the more democratic prizes, including as it does the People’s Choice award and the Packing Room Prize.
The works have been elegantly distributed between the two galleries, with Fiona Lowry’s winning portrait of Penelope Seidler hanging in Lismore and the People’s Choice award, Vincent Fantauzzo’s All that’s good in me (self-portrait as son Luca) and the Packing Room Prize, Tim Storrier’s, The Member, Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson KCB AO, hanging in Byron. Storrier’s is an interesting work in that at first glance it seems to be a somewhat predictable treatment of the subject matter, until you realise that Storrier has set Sir Les in a curious desert environment, with a backdrop of clouds and a city floor thereby creating a curious duality between subject and place, which is perhaps mirrored in the duality between Barry Humphries and his alter-ego.
This year, the hung portraits went from the usual 39 to 54 because of the inclusion of some extra small works – and I think that’s a good thing. It serves two purposes – it gives us more to look at, but more importantly it reintroduces the notion that less is more, and that it might even be possible at sometime in the future for a small portrait to win the prize.
I love Fiona Lowry’s work, and her massive air-brushed acrylic on canvas portrait of Harry Seidler’s widow, Penelope Seidler is a beautiful and considered work, although for me it does perhaps lack a certain element of passion, or even of instantaneous response to the subject, which has become less and less a part of portrait painting, as artists rely more on photographs and technique and less on sitting times with their subject.
As usual, there are portraits with emotional content – Joanna Braithwaite’s portrait of Colleen McCullough, for instance, and the very accomplished oil portrait of 93-year-old Tom Uren by Mirra Whale are both heart-stoppers, with McCullough and Uren dying within three days of each other in January this year.
One of the interesting and often frustrating things about the Archibald for me is which paintings get media attention and which don’t. Personally I thought two very rich and unusual paintings where overlooked this year in terms of attention. One was comedian and writer Anh Do’s startlingly vivid oil portrait of his father, painted on raw linen, which although not exatly in the ‘less is more’ category at 244cm x 200cm, has a powerful presence to it. His father, who had shrunk to a mere 50kgs, came to visit Anh Do, who insisted that he should paint him then and there – and for me it is the sense of raw immediacy that gives the portrait its emotional power.
The other painting, and I was lucky enough to meet the artist on the opening night in Byron Bay, is Jandamarra Cadd’s powerful acrylic on canvas portrait of singer songwriter Archie Roach, Proud. Cadd, who now lives on the Sunshine Coast, is an Aboriginal (Yorta Yorta) man, who took up painting at an early age as a way to ease the trauma of an abusive childhood. To Cadd’s surprise, the painting evolved into his first dot painting. “I had to trust the flow,” he told me. “It wasn’t my original plan, but it seemed to consolidate the idea of Uncle Archie being so connected to the land.”
Standing in front of the painting for a while, a curious thing happened – it was almost as if Roach began to transform into a landscape himself. “I began to see that while I was painting,” says Cadd. “It’s almost as if the work and contours of the painting could be a topographical view of a vast area of land. The fact is aboriginal people have a deep connection to the land. We are not separate from the earth and I wanted to show that in my painting.”
There is a curious similarity between the eyes in Anh Do’s portrait of his father, and Cadd’s of Roach. These are men who have seen almost too much – in Do’s father’s case facing communist soldiers, pirates and starvation at sea, and Roach’s the ongoing battle for his people and their rights. In their eyes there is sadness, compassion and strength – and for me, both these portraits do what the best portraits should do, they stop and made me think about the life beyond the painting, and the person in the painting.
The Archibald is showing in both places until Sunday April 12, so do yourselves a favour – spread your patronage and catch the paintings in both exhibitions. You won’t be sorry.
The Archibald Finalist Exhibition will be running at the Lismore Regional Gallery until Sunday, April 12. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am to 4.00pm; Thursday from 10.00am to 6.00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10.00am to 2.00pm. Lismore is closed on Mondays.
The Lone Goat satellite exhibition will be open every day from 10.00am until 4.00pm. The exhibition runs until Sunday, April 12, 2015.