The Portrait and The Archibald Prize

The Archibald Prize from my perspective represents the challenge to keep the genre of portraiture alive. Because of the way The Archibald can be colonised by attention seekers the opposite result is often achieved and the genre can appear entirely bereft and empty. (2014 is a case in point.)

The beauty of portraiture is that it's very simple.If you don't achieve a likeness, then you have failed. There is no hiding behind a deeper intent, because there is none. It might be relative, but it's also measurable

A good portrait will capture a likeness and also reveal an aspect of the subject which others share. A portrait can also reveal an aspect of the subject which is more under the surface, that only keen sensitivity and technical capacity brought together, can show.

Importantly also, you can't just select a mode from the history's catalogue of options to paint a portrait.

That is objectionable.

To be genuine, the artist ought to have integrated art's research from the past and to have found a way of extending it and applying it. Portraiture is not somewhere we can seek refuge as if it is a safe haven to hide from art's bewildering new agendas.

The Archibald, with its history, with its exposure and prize money is a great motivator towards advancing this goal and we are privileged in Sydney to host it.

That the gallery and the wider community exploit The Archibald Prize for audience and social advancement is an unfortunate outcome. It is understandable though, that many are drawn to such a light that The Archibald sheds.

Everyone wants a slice of The Archibald, for different reasons.

I have submitted about ten portraits for The Archibald since my first entry in 1983. My portraits have been hung twice, once with Stephen Mori, in 2000 and the following year with a portrait of Paul Hopmeier and Ron Robertson-Swann. These can be viewed on my website.

I believe that it is because my portraits are formally adventurous that I have have about a one in five success rate of their being hung. It is also possible that those not selected were of an inferior quality or too little resembling the sitter or of an insufficiently notable subject, I cannot say. "Why does the sculptor paint?", I hear them say. Certainly it does not help that the trustees of the gallery are the selection and judging committee. They cannot be aware of the high-minded intents of artists that do not flatter what they find important or noteworthy.

One cannot be daunted however that when taste is being pushed, resistance is often an inevitable result.

The Salon de Refuses exhibition of a selection of rejects might have presented, in an ideal world a forum for the more experimental works. None of my rejected works have been selected here, so from my perspective, that opportunity has been lost.

The gallery has tried recently to welcome a younger group of artists to participate in the portrait 'debate'. The winning portraits by Adam Cullen, Kathryn Del Barton, Ben Quilty, Fiona Lowry and Guy Maestri attest to this commitment. That is to be applauded. There is a sense though, that those artists have slightly compromised their normal work, that by drawing the trustees eyes, that they have debased themselves.

The winners always seem to have acquiesced.

There is a presumption too that the young and the new run parallel. Experience and age deter innovation apparently.

This assumption insults the serious artist.

The task of selecting from such a number of entries and the limited time available to select work, must be daunting also. Without having observed the process, I imagine a very pragmatic programme is applied which works very well in business but not so well in art.

Any comments such as these I make here will be interpreted as being moderated by disappointment. I would argue that my thinking has been sharpened by my experience and for as long as these thoughts persist so shall I.