Archibald Prize 2014

I really love the winner of this year’s Archibald Prize: the portrait of Penelope Seidler by Fiona Lowry. Although I’d seen it previously online, it wasn’t until I saw it in real life today that I realised how much I like it.

It’s the kind of work you could spend hours looking at and see many layers of complexity emerge, although the story behind the portrait is quite simple. It’s set in the yard of a house designed by Penelope and her husband Harry, and in which they lived for many years. Harry’s dead now, and Penelope no longer lives there. For the painting, Penelope and the artist went back to that house, and what you see is a portrait of Penelope looking back at the house.

“When you’re doing a portrait it’s said you should always start with the eyes”, the tour guide told us at the Art Gallery of NSW today. Although the image above is cropped (it’s a full-length portrait), the eyes draw you in.

The other works that really captured my attention today were the portrait of Ash Flanders as Hedda Gabler by Wendy Sharpe, the portrait of Tim Maguire by Mia Oatley and the portrait of his father by Anh Do. Anh is one seriously talented guy. As well as his acting, writing and comedy, he’s also a really fantastic artist (I never knew). Our guide today explained Anh also worked in a bakery, and his attitude to paint was probably drawn from this experience, spreading large amounts of paint around as you perhaps would pastry or confectionery.

It was a really lovely way to spend the afternoon, and especially nice since my friend Sue now lives in Sydney. It’s quite a luxury to be able to chat in morning, and organise something for the early afternoon without the need to book a flight and fly 1,000 km.

I’ve concluded that when I retire, I’d like to spend my time evenly divided between being an art gallery tour guide and conducting history walks. Now that would be really nice.

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