Art and Ellis

“It’s so nice being able to look at the exhibition without the crowds”, I whispered to someone tonight at the Art Gallery of NSW. I was at the gallery with about eighty others for a special invited showing of this year’s Archibald Prize. Although I normally go to the opening night, I missed it this year, and haven’t been able to organise myself enough to make it along any other time. Thanks to work, however, I was able to go along tonight to see the exhibition, and to listen to a very entertaining talk by the Director of the AGNSW, Edmund Capon, about the history of the Archibald, the history of the prize, and some insights into this year’s exhibition. As well as the Archibald, of course, this also meant a look at the Sulman and Wynne Prizes also.

My favourite overall work as a piece by Gloria Petyarre called “Untitled (leaves). It’s such an incredibly beautiful work, that after first seeing it, I came back and found myself a quiet place just by myself, and just stood there looking at the work for several minutes. The word that’s often used to describe some of the more “abstract” Aboriginal works is that it “sings”, meaning it comes to life and reverberates before your eyes (my description). And that’s certainly what I thought this work did so beautifully.

Another painting that really captured my attention for the beautiful lines (on the face of the portrait) was Gyton by Sam Crounston. It’s a portrait of an actor I didn’t know, though he was apparently in the first season of Underbelly. Unlike a lot of paintings in the exhibition, it’s a reasonably small one, though it really reaches out and grabs you with its attention to detail and great craft.

For a similar reason, I really loved the portrait of Elisabeth Murdoch by FU Hong. In particular, I loved the beautiful lines around her lips which made I thought said so much about her. You can imagine those lips giving you a lovely, motherly, kiss on the cheek. Great stuff.

I was also impressed by the portrait of the art dealer, Ray Hughes by Jun Chen which, it’s large slabs of paint heavily added to the portrait, and with multiple images, beautifully captured the complex character that Ray Hughes is.

Overall it was a really lovely way to spend the evening.

The other highlight of the day was seeing the writer, Bob Ellis. With an unusual sense of confidence I walked up to him and said, “Bob, my name’s James O’Brien and I’m also from Lismore”. It’s interesting when you come from a country town, you often find a common interest in other people based on geography. I once remember someone observing you can always tell the difference between someone from the city and someone from the country, in that someone from the city will ask what you do for a living, whereas someone from the country will generally ask where you’re from. It’s all about establishing a connection, I guess.

Anyway, I’d wanted to say hello to him after having seen an article about him in “The Northern Star” (Lismore’s daily newspaper) a couple of years ago. I was going through old copies of the paper as part of my family history research, and happened upon an article about “the young playwright returning home from Sydney to visit his family” (as country papers often do).

We had a brief chat about the place, and how much we both agreed it was beautiful. Bob told me he continues to own a house in Lismore, and until recently used to return home and sleep in the same bedroom in which he grew up. “It used to be a town of rednecks”, he said.