The top five picks of the 2018 Archibald Prize

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The top five picks of the 2018 Archibald Prize

High profile, eagerly anticipated and often controversial, the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Archibald Prize is Australia’s favourite art award, and one of its most prestigious. Awarded to the best portrait painting, it’s a who’s who of Australian culture, with subjects often including politicians, celebrities, sporting heroes, authors and artists. Lucky for us, The Geelong Gallery is again the exclusive Victorian venue for this exhibition. Gallery Director Jason Smith talks us through his top five picks of this years collection.
The Fourth Week of Parenthood by Guy Maestri
This is a really lovely painting I just keep going back to. Guy has been in the show before, but this is a small, beautiful self-portrait, and it’s called The Fourth Week of Parenthood where he’s cast himself in a dark, sombre, small painting just of his head. It’s really beautiful in light and colour, but also its depiction of a state of calm but bewilderment at what’s happening to his life with the arrival of this new baby. It’s just a really touching self-portrait by a man who’s beginning to cope with parenthood.
Herb and Flan by Julian Meagher
This one is of the writer Richard Flanagan with his cockatoo; a pink Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. It’s a big portrait, but when you look at it, there isn’t a mark out of place. There isn’t a lot of paint, it’s almost like a watercolour, the paint’s so thin and washy so Julian couldn’t make any mistakes. It’s just very deftly realised and composed as a portrait. We know portraits often look back at us, but pretty much without fail this year, there is such a penetrating gaze from all the sitters back to the viewer. It really is great, and this is one of those works. It’s a miracle of beautiful painting.
The Huxleys by Sally Ross
Sally has been in the Archibald a few times. This is a picture of a live couple called The Huxleys. It’s a double portrait of Will and Garrett and they’re dressed up in their performance costumes, with their short brown bob wigs on and their pink sequinned outfits. It’s unusual to see a double; we don’t see often too many but Sally has kind of a very pointillist style that’s quite beautifully graphic. It’s just a remarkably kind of lively, fun, slightly weird-double portrait. I like things that keep me coming back again and again, and this is one of them.
Guy by Anne Middleton
Anne Middleton’s portrait of Guy Pearce is an incredibly powerful work. Anne is intriguing because this is the first portrait she’s ever painted. She usually paints fish and botanical specimens. Very expertly, photo-realist, but she thought Guy would be a lovely sitter. As she has stated, what she encountered in him was a very unpretentious, gentle, contemplative man. She really seems to have captured those very private, personal qualities in the portrait.
Numb to touch by Natasha Walsh
This is a self-portrait called Numb to Touch, as in feeling numb. Last year’s portrait (she was in the show last year) was similarly very contemplative and very kind of inward-looking. Her paintings are small and they’re very finely worked, but while they’re meticulous, she doesn’t try to make it look like a photograph. It’s very much about painting. The small, intimate scale is very beautiful but she’s such a very very interesting artist. There’s a lot of emotional intensity packed into this tiny little painting. There’s paintings of every gamut in the Archibald, but some of the little ones pack the biggest punch.
The Archibald Prize runs until 18 November at The Geelong Gallery. Open daily 10am to 5pm.