Welcome one and all to my review of what I believe are the ten best paintings for the 2022 Archibald Prize. I am an opiniated bastard and will forthwith offer my views. Mostly praise, but where I see something that is wrong with the artists work I will say so.
Every year the judges announce the finalists a short period of time before letting the world know who is the ultimate winner of this most prestigious of art prizes. This year their were 816 entries and 52 made it to the finals. Out of those 52 I have picked the ten paintings for me that are outstanding.
If anyone feels I am biased. Yes, you would be right. My bias that has come to the fore this year is that I hate ‘art world’ art. I want art to be democratic. By that I mean to be understandable by the everyday person and about real people, real things. etc. Oh and I want the judges to pick great art from artists who aren’t prominent in the art scene.
My judging criteria
Composition: How well constructed is the painting. Does it make the viewers eyes wander across the surface.
Skilfullness: How much skill is on show. And no more realism doesn’t automatically mean more skill.
Informative: How well has the artist communicated something or perhaps making us want to learn more about the sitter.
Democratic: How understandable is the artwork by the average punter. Does it relate to everyday concerns?
Other factor: Art isn’t easily pidgeonholed. Every now and again I come across an artist who has something that’s hard to describe and often it’s a quality of uniqueness.
At the British Museum
This is a tiny painting. And Mr Zavros is a master painter. And as a photorealist artist myself, you would expect me to rank this really well. Well, one thing pissed me off – the fucking subject. I am all for what I call democratic art – art that can be understood by the average person and that is interesting to them. This painting fails because it’s about art world shit – in this case cultural theft. The average punter doesn’t give a fuck about that at all. And not only that, we are only shown the back of Mr Zavros. He’s gazing at it, but we know little else about the sitter. In fact, the painting is almost not a portrait but a painting about cultural theft.
Now, having kicked the painter, let me praise him. He is one of the most talented painters in Australia. Full stop. And this painting shows that – the depiction of the marble on that scale – breathtaking. The whole painting, as you would expect from Michael Zavros, is absolutely masterful. His composition here is good but not great; it makes the viewers’ eye wander. And that’s all I will say.
This is a great painting. The sitter Liz Laverty stares straight up at the viewer; the composition of this painting is superb. Then there are those blue eyes, the red hair, the dress. There is something about this painting which goes beyond the usual judgements I would make in order to assess a painting. I am not sure what it is, but I suspect is that the subject looking straight up at the viewer is the key.
The subject is someone who is involved in art-world things but presented here, at the breakfast table, it becomes more relatable. This could be anyone’s mum.
The red scarf: portrait of Wayne Tunnicliffe
I am a man who speaks his mind and once again will level a whole bunch of criticism for the subject – another art world subject. This time it is a portrait of the head curator of the Art Gallery of NSW – Wayne Tunnicliffe. When the art-world paints art-world subjects, it holds zero interest for the average man or woman or child on the street. For me the biggest problem with modern art is that it is all too often highfalutin and does nothing to communicate to everyday folk.
Ok. Nick has knocked it out of the park with his technical ability. Just check out the hair on the dude. Then there’s the composition – masterful. What’s with the matchsticks? Made me investigate further.
Like Michael Zavros, I was deeply disappointed to see that the subject was about the art-world. But the skill and composition place this painting in the top ten.
What makes this painting work is the composition. By having offset the figure to the right and down from the top, combined with that bird; it shows a mastery of the art of making the viewer look where the painter wants you to look. Not only that, but Joanna has got the sitter Sally McManus to strike that defiant pose. This all adds up to an effective telling of who the person is and what they are all about.
Then we have to come to that suit. Don’t know if it’s a real suit, or the artist has improvised, but it’s another effective tool in communicating who the sitter is. The skilfullness is there, but it isn’t as good as the other top ten. Nonetheless, this is a great painting.
At first I didn’t like this painting. And that’s because I didn’t understand the story behind it. Once I read the information that the NSW Art Gallery provided I liked it much more. Essentially this painting is about two things.
- The woeful federal government response to the recent floods which devasted northern NSW. The person portrayed here is Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, who lives on Bundjalung Country in Lismore. She is glaring angrily out at the viewer.
- The other idea expressed here is the way commercial galleries leach money from the artists they represent. It is often 50%. This is shown by the leaking buckets. And Ms Dickens stands in a sea of water – which represents the art world – ‘trepidatious, unchartered and ominous.’ That bit in the quotes is from the artist Blak Douglas. I couldn’t agree more
Now for my thoughts. I love art that is about ideas. I love art that challenges authority. Blak Douglas has tried to combine what I see as two seperate issues here and I just don’t think it works for the average punter. Plus I don’t like artists painting about art-world things. It’s of little concern to the rest of the community. However I have to then also agree that he is 100% right with both of his criticisms. The enormous devastation from the floods highlighted how out of touch governments are with the needs of real people and how little they care about anything but their stupid political games. Also when you think about it the plight of Aboriginal artists for decades has been one of financial exploitation. The people that sell the art, collect the art and discuss the merits of the art over an expensive wine with hors d’oeuvres are little concerned with the fair compensation of the artist. But what I would add is that this problem isn’t just for Aboriginal artists – it is applicable more or less to 99% of the artists who produce work. It’s an art market, an art-world problem. It’s a problem of elitism.
I don’t watch television, so I have no idea about who these two characters are. But looking at the painting, I want to know more. What stands out is how Caroline Zilinsky has used the composition to walk the eye around the canvas. One man’s hand rests on the others knee. Then you’re checking out those colorful pants. And from there, you are drawn to look at the rest of the painting.
Caroline’s style isn’t (generally) reliant on three-dimensionality or the depiction of the surface of things. It’s kinda flat and what I found a little jarring was that some passages were given a little tonal modelling to make them look real. I would suggest she stick to the flatness.
As for the two sitters, I would want to know more. I can see they are two flamboyant men and the painter has communicated this. There’s also something that I give marks to – the painter’s style. It’s got its own uniqueness, and I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Laura Tingle – the fourth estate
I have to confess. I think Mr Powditch is a hell of a painter. Every year that I see he has made the finals of the Archibald Prize, I am reminded of just how good he is and just how unique he is with his graphic art style.
This year is no different with this portrait of journalist Laura Tingle. It conveys the fact that the sitter is deep in thought, reflective even. The composition is superb and that graphic art style is captivating. I love it.
Peter, up close
A funny man who is also an extraordinarily talented painter; that’s Anh Do. This painting is big, bold and masterfully painted. Its subject, Peter Garrett, of Midnight Oil fame, is well known to us older Australians. We know who he is, what he stands for, and have all seen him in action.
Anh Do has captured the essence of the person with that hard, somewhat intimidating, stare out at the viewer. Then there’s that right eye of Peter’s – it appears twice, and there’s a left and a right… what did Peter move his head? On stage, Garett is a flurry of wild movement. Yeah, that’s it. He moved. Either that or the painter has used a little trick here to remind us of who Peter is.
Outside of the masterful composition, I find the skilfulness to be quite extraordinary. It is simply exquisite. Check out the confidence of the blue shirt, one quick drag of the brush or palette knife (can’t tell from image) and it’s done.
I don’t know who Taika Waititi is. But after looking at this painting, I want to know more. The painter of this awesome painting, Claus Stangl, has conveyed a sense of the sitter. He’s wearing a suit and yet he’s pose is unconventional. As is the composition and the technique. Which are masterful.
I understand Mr Waititi is into the film game. So the use of the red and green outlined offset to create a 3D effect is next fucking level. The technical skills on display here are incredible and yet restrained. They don’t create a distraction. The composition is also masterful, with the subject emerging from the lower left corner of the canvas.
This is a hell of a painting on every level. Very difficult to find anything to criticise.
Robert Hannaford is the painters painter. His absolute mastery is on show here. Let’s start with the composition. At first glance, it is effective; and then the more you look around, the more you see how good the artist is. The angle of the pose, combined with the incredibly restrained and angled background… Wow! Subtle, but it damn well works.
Now let’s talk about skills. The ability for Mr Hannaford to depict the surface of things is insanely good. The flesh tones are incredibly accurate, the human form – perfect. Then for me there is the hair, especially the hair on the arms and top of the shoulders; this is incredibly difficult to get right. Yet I suspect this is easy for the artist. Everything in this painting seems effortless in its execution.