the assistants speak to power; artists respond to the canon

For those seeking refuge from the election, the 101st Archibald Prize is almost a politician-free zone. Unless you count the amusing title of McManusstan by Joanna Braithwaite, a portrait of bird-lover Sally McManus. Former Labor Minister Peter Garrett painted by Anh Do is in the line up – but more accurately described as a rock star.

Braithwaite painted McManus in a costume which I assume she does not own, as it is covered in newspaper articles attacking labor unions.

2022 Archibald Prize finalist, Joanna Braithwaite, McManusstan, oil on canvas, 197.5 x 167 cm © the artist, image.
© AGNSW, Mim Stirling

This year’s exhibition includes interesting works of art as well as people of interest. Artists and their subjects to have problems that our elected officials seem unwilling or unable to solve.

As effective as McManus has been in highlighting industrial issues, Laura Tingle – The Fourth Estate, painted by James Powditch, is probably more influential for the way she speaks truth to power.

2022 Archibald Prize Finalist, James Powditch, Laura Tingle–The Fourth Estate, acrylic on paper and cardboard, 204 x 170.1 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Jenni Carter

Powditch has entered the Archibald several times before and this is by far his most impressive entry so far. Tingle is painted in profile, staring intently at someone we can’t see.

His face is superimposed on a collage that includes a 7:30 script, a page from his quarterly essay, pages from Simeon Potter’s Language in the Modern World, and a fragment of a Bach composition. A multicolored collage of facsimile prints by Sydney Parkinson tells of her love of gardening.

Read more: ‘I think Archie would be delighted’: 100 years of our most famous portrait award and my almost 50 years of watching it evolve

Respectful Rage

The painting that dominates the exhibition is Moby Dickens by Blak Douglas, a portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens.

Archibald Prize 2022 finalist, Blak Douglas, Moby Dickens, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 300 x 200 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Mim Stirling

Dickens lives in Lismore, in Bundjalung country. Her justified anger at how she and many others have been neglected flashes from her eyes. She is painted holding leaking buckets while standing in brown muddy water. The 14 clouds represent the 14 days it rained during the first flood in February when the government failed to act.

Floods are the subject of at least two Wynne Prize paintings, but this entry by Archibald says it all. Douglas sums up the rage of a people betrayed by an absent government.

Read more: Like many disasters in Australia, Aboriginal people are over-represented and under-resourced in NSW floods

The somewhat pained expression on Saul Griffith’s face in Jude Rae’s The big switch – a portrait of Dr. Saul Griffith, which is to the left of Douglas’s artwork, may give some context to the anger.

2022 Archibald Prize finalist, Jude Rae, The big switch – portrait of Dr Saul Griffith, oil on linen, solar panels, 209.8 x 239.7 cm overall.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Mim Stirling

Griffith created a plan for Australia to reduce electricity costs through solar power and batteries. Most federal politicians are less than receptive, preferring to cook the planet with coal and gas.

Griffith was also the subject of a portrait by his mother, Pamela Griffith. There is an unwritten rule in the Archibald that only one painting of any subject will be hung, so this unfortunately went with the vast majority of rejections.

There are many reasons for righteous anger in this year’s exhibition. Mostafa Azimitabar’s self-portrait, KNS088, fixes the viewer, confronting us with how we, as a country, have been complicit in a crime against humanity.

2022 Archibald Prize Finalist, Mostafa Azimitabar, KNS088 (self-portrait), coffee and acrylic on canvas, 190.5 x 191.8 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Jenni Carter

For many years he was in detention, on the island of Manus and then in a hotel. He learned to paint with coffee and a toothbrush. Both materials are used here.

‘You Were My Greatest Regret’ by Joan Ross: 1808 diary entry, seems comparatively mild in comparison. But his stylized self-portrait in mock colonial style sadly hugs a tree trunk, symbolizing the destruction of the natural world by the colonizers in whose footsteps we walk.

2022 Archibald Prize Finalist, Joan Ross “You Were My Greatest Regret”: 1806 Journal Entry, oil and alkyd paint on PVC with printed plexiglass backing, 154 x 123.5 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Jenni Carter

Pleasure of the job

The exhibition also celebrates those who fight for causes.

Tsering Hannaford has a painting of Pitjantjatjara activist Sally Scales, painted in the academic style most commonly found in the hallowed halls of gentlemen’s clubs.

2022 Archibald Prize finalist, Tsering Hannaford, Sally Scales, oil on panel, 120.2 x 91 cm © the artist, image.
© AGNSW, Jenni Carter

Not all creative activists are treated so seriously.

Jordan Richardson’s Venus is a portrait of Benjamin Law as Velázquez Rokeby Venuswhile the portrait of Avraham Vofsi John Safran as David and Goliath successfully appropriates the style of 19th century academic art, especially the gilt frame.

2022 Archibald Prize Finalist, Jordan Richardson, Venus, oil on canvas, 122.3 x 183.4 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Felicity Jenkin

The portrait of Yoshio Honjo Yumi Stynes ​​as onna-musha (female samurai) is painted in the style of a Japanese woodblock print. It is one of the many works where the artist really took into account the sensibility of his subjects.

By far the most successful of these appropriate styles is Claus Stangl’s “3D” portrait of Taika Waititi, the man who gave the world Wilderpeople Hunt and What we do in the shadows before making Marvel movies that are actually worth watching.

It’s a very clever painting, using thin layers of paint to create a gloriously blurry faux 3D effect, and a very worthy winner of the Packing Room award.

Archibald Prize 2022 finalist, Claus Stangl, Taika Waititi, acrylic on canvas, 245 x 195.1 cm.
© the artist, image © AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins

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