Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Callum


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.]


A.M.E. Bale Award @ Glen Eira City Gallery

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 1Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A.M.E. Bale Award @ Glen Eira City Gallery

The A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize supports, encourages and celebrates the artists who are working in such traditional styles as realist, figurative and representational. The prize encourages the continuation and perpetuation of classical training, and awards a Travelling Scholarship of $40,000, as well as two separate prizes for a painting and a work on paper at $5,000 each.

I am a self-confessed supported and admirer of figurative and representational art. I seek it out in our top commercial galleries and contemporary art exhibitions; follow and celebrate its progress and achievements in various prizes, articles in art magazines and other popular media, and on the walls of our museums and art galleries. As such, I am familiar with the work of many figurative and representational artists working in Australia today: I have their works in my collection and have discussed their oeuvre within these pages.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 2Therefore, I was rather surprised and astonished to walk around the exhibition of A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize winners and finalists at the Glen Eira City Gallery without seeing or recognising among them any of our top names in figurative and representational art. It is as if this prize, which supports the perpetuation and survival of this traditional and historical art movement, is shunned by the biggest names working in this style in Australia today.

I could not conceive the reasons for it. A Travelling Scholarship to the tune of $40,000 is a serious amount of money; $5,000 each for a painting and a work on paper is also nothing to be sniffed at. In my mind’s eye, there was no rhyme or reason for the absence – or perhaps exclusion – of some of the more prominent artists whose works we may see in our most respected commercial galleries.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Installation View 3Granted, the Travelling Scholarship does require an artist to submit four works: a landscape, a painting of a human figure (either a portrait or a figure study), a still life, and a nude drawing. It is possible that some of our top figurative artists may lack the confidence or ability to work simultaneously in such diverse variety of genres. However, without naming names, I can immediately think of a number of younger and mid-career artists, exhibiting with some of our more prominent galleries, whose oeuvre, across all four categories, would have felt right at home on the walls of this award exhibition.

Judging by the display of the finalists’ works, it is indeed very difficult to work across a range of several genres and in different media with the same degree of skill and consistency. Naturally, some excel in landscape rather than the human figure; while for others landscape is the weakest point. Janice Allwood for example can produce a most delicious piece of drawing (such as her Sylvia), but the fluidity, the perfection of line, and the physical sensation of the body are lost when the same artist turns to oils (i.e. In the Studio). While Michelle Molinari’s landscape, View of Avon River, East Gippsland, is s superb representation of the genre in a grand manner, her portrait and still life border on the kitsch.

A.M.E. BALE Winner - Joshua MacPherson

I do agree with the judges’ choice of this year’s winner, Joshua MacPherson. His portrait of Guido Cavalieri is a memorable character study, which is also striking from compositional, colour balance, and overall execution points of view, as is his charcoal drawing, Paolo. Both of these works are strongly reminiscent of the early 20th-century Australian tonalist artists, especially of Hugh Ramsey and the Max Meldrum School. His still life, Pesce con Limone, the muted colours of which are accentuated with bright passages of yellow and green, is another equally winsome piece of contemporary painting, posited somewhere between the Spanish Baroque, Fantin-Latour, and contemporary Australian figuration. The landscape, The Windy White Path, is perhaps the weakest of the four, but, as mentioned previously, it is a momentous task to excel across several genres and diverse media.

A.M.E. BALE - Marcus CallumI would also like to single out the entries by Marcus Callum as the most worthy runner-up in this year’s prize, who I believe would have deserved to win for his striking Still Life with Lion and Buddha and a superb life drawing, Julia. Another noteworthy entrant is Simon Cowell, who is one of the very few finalists to maintain the same consistency of brushwork and execution across all his entered pieces, as opposed to switching between a highly academic, glossy finish in one genre, and a looser painterly technique in the other as can be observed within the works of the finalists in this exhibition.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Right to Left: Kieren Ingram, Marcus Callum, Fiona BilbroughThe traditional representation is also the key in two other Prize categories, Painting and Works on Paper. Once again I find the absence of some of our bigger names puzzling and deplorable. I must also admit the exhibition contains some of the most banal and bland paintings. It is as if, in the pursuit of figuration, such concerns as imagination, originality, and psychological depth had taken the back seat. We are faced with rows upon rows of most ordinary and prosaic portraits, nude studies, landscapes, and interiors, in which majority of the artists made no effort whatsoever to progress beyond the mere rendition of an object or a view in front of them to a more psychologically and narratively engaging work of art. In this sense, the winning work in the Painting category, Kieran Ingram’s Milika, is a worthy choice because of the masterful use of lighting in the picture and his ability to capture the psychological demeanour of the nude model. The slight distortion of the figure’s proportions ads to the sense of the dramatic within the work.

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - David CostelloThe biggest pleasure to be drawn from the Works on Paper section of the finalists’ exhibition is the artists’ virtuosity in their chosen media – pencil, pastel, charcoal, or watercolour. The winning work, Regina Hona’s In Repose, is a tour de force in the handling of the pastel medium. I would also single out Marcus Callum’s Foot Study, which is virtually as good as anything that might have come out from the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of David or Ingres.

It is also in this section that artists also seem to be able to escape the ordinary dreariness that is prevalent in the Painting section. It is as if the use of a lighter medium has liberated their thoughts and minds. David Costello’s View Five: Chrysalis illustrates this point perfectly. It depicts a boy running out naked into the world from the ‘cocoon’ of a rather shabby and gloomy interior. However, every item and object within that room is psychologically charged, adding further to the complex narrative of the drawing (David Costello is also among the finalists of the Travelling Scholarship category of the Prize).

A.M.E. BALE AWARD - Michelle MolinariSo, in conclusion, it is great to have such an award as the A.M.E. Bale Travelling Scholarship and Art Prize that is dedicated to the support, nurturing, and perpetuation of traditional, figurative, and representational art. The skills displayed by the winners and finalists within this exhibition are considerable. However, most of them do not progress beyond the most prosaic rendition of a landscape, or a mere “mapping” of a human face with hardly any attempt at psychological depth or narrative engagement. The combined prize pool of $50,000 is a fairly significant amount, and it is puzzling that this worthy prize does not attract more high-profile and mainstream artists. Their presence among the finalists would have brought more attention to the award (and its exhibition at the Glen Eira City Gallery), and placed a further emphasis on the importance and continuous preservation of this genre in the contemporary Australian painting tradition.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

August 2020


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