The Archibald Prize for Portraiture 2012 [Part II]

Storrier Self-Portrait Archibald 2012

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Archibald Prize for Portraiture 2012 [Part II]

[ … continued from the previous post …]

For once, I fully agree with the judges’ choice, who awarded this year’s Prize, most deservedly, to Tim Storrier. In his self-portrait, The Historionic Wayfarer, Storrier truly extends the possibilities of portraiture and engages in the contemporary objectification debate. Though he shows us a disembodied figure in a safari suit, he endows it with enough attributes to conjure up an image of an artist (witness the stretched canvas, palette, brushes, painter’s box, etc). A mini-burning log at his feet and a hunk of meat in his hand are among Storrier’s most recognisable images; and just in case the viewer is still none the wiser about the exact identity of the person in the portrait, a chargé of the artist is traced on a piece of paper, flying through the air in the wake of his confident stride.

Apart from the clarity and excellence of the execution, which invariably accompanies his works, another reason for my admiration of Storrier’s self-portrait is the fact that he does not deviate from his usual metier to create this portrait. A number of artists in this and previous Archibald prizes, who usually work in other genres or stylistic movements, only too readily turn to portraiture or a human figure in order to have a shot at this prestigious prize. The insincerity of such approach becomes too obvious and their attempts are weak and unconvincing. Storrier on the other hand does not deviate from his usual oeuvre. This portrait fits among other disembodied garments that have been the mainstay of his artistic investigation over the last few years. Same faithfulness of approach can be observed in the portraits by Kate Beynon, Rhys Lee, Tim McMonagle, and a few others, who reinterpret either themselves or their sitters through the prism of their own aesthetic vision.

Tucker Higgins Archibald 2012

Witness, for example, the way in which Kate Tucker, who recently concentrated on abstracted explorations (and whose installations at the Linden Gallery were reviewed in these pages), inserts the portrait of Missy Higgins within her cacophonous explosion of multi-coloured, fractured bunting.

McMonangle Buxton Archibald 2012

While I might be critical of Tim McMonagle’s portrait of Michael Buxton for the lack of any supporting information about his sitter as a property developer and an art collector, I see it as one of the most admirable portraits in the exhibition precisely because it is instantly recognisable as a McMonagle re-interpretation of the human visage, where the artist’s typical textured blobs of paint are re-interpreted as sun spots and skin blemishes.

Behrens Self-Portrait Archibald 2012

A similar observation can be made about the portrait by Monika Behrens, who portrays herself arranging a mise-en-scène of objects that directly relates to her still-life paintings (which were reviewed within these pages), though perhaps the overall colour palette of this particular work is not as winsome as in her still-life compositions.

Fantauzzo Kimbra Archibald 2012

Among the paintings I most admire in the exhibition is Vincent Fantauzzo’s portrait of Kimbra. By titling it The Build Up, the artist lets us into the intimate world of the singer moments before her performance, as she gathers her strength and spirits in the process of overcoming whatever fears and insecurities she may have in order to assume her public persona. I am also taken by Fantauzzo’s depiction of the most poignant dichotomy between the public adulation and the most excruciating isolation, which performing artists and public figures face on an almost daily basis, and frequently discuss its repercussions in their interviews. The execution of the portrait is superb, and the colour balances are harmonious.

Callum Self-Portrait Archibald 2012

Another technically superb work is the self-portrait by Marcus Callum. It is not criarde like most of the portraits in the exhibition; its subdued colour palette demands quiet contemplation which can be a challenge within the context of this exhibition. The evocation of the Old Masters is palpable in the subdued colour palette; the concentrated gaze; the tonal neutrality of the indeterminate background that forces the viewer to concentrate on Callum’s visage; the elegant pose of the elbow; and the subtle indication of the artist’s metier through the careful placement of the pencil and sketchbook within the composition.

Quilty Archibald 2012

And last but not least, while Ben Quilty’s portrait suffers terribly from his increasing penchant for vacuous expanses of blank canvas, his idea to juxtapose within his portrait the heroic valour of the military commander with the fragile vulnerability of the male nude, in a recumbent pose of countless Sebastians, Leanders, Acteons and other fallen heroes of the classical world, is nothing short of a tour-de-force; the thick layering of paint and excruciating angles of foreshortened limbs, severed by the limits of the picture plane, evoke all to palpably the viscerality of war.

The portraits by Storrier, Fantauzzo, Callum, McMonagle, Quilty, and several others like Paul Newton or Jenny Sages, make the Archibald exhibition worth visiting. They stand out among the pervading mediocrity like gemstones in a crown of paste. Portraiture is my passion, and I look forward to the day when the Archibald Prize judges resume the trust they are invested with, and finally take their role seriously, in order to present the annual Archibald Prize as a showcase of the best artistic talent in the field of contemporary Australian portraiture (and we do have some amazing artists practicing in this genre, by Jove we do!!!), instead of a pitiful joke into which it has so deplorably descended.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2012; where applicable, images are courtesy of the artists and their galleries.]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

July 2012


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