• Fiona Prior

The Archibald Prize 2020

Updated: Sep 28


And the winner is ….. Australia’s indigenous community and human dignity.

What’s this got to do with the Archibald art prize you ask? Well, historically not so much I quite agree. But the Archibald Prize has never really been about the best portrait of the year – ‘best’ being an ambiguous term in any context. The Archibald has always been a highly contentious award, whether it be for technique and interpretation or for the politics of prestige.


As if you haven’t seen the winner yet, here is Vincent Namatjira's winning portrait.

image: ‘Stand strong for who your are’ – Portrait of Adam Goodes by Vincent Namatjira


“Vincent Namatjira describes his portrait subject, Adam Goodes, as ‘a proud Aboriginal man who stands strong for his people’. He says: ‘I first met Adam in 2018, when he visited the school in Indulkana where I live, as part of his work promoting Indigenous literacy. When I saw the documentary The final quarter about Adam’s final season of AFL, my guts were churning as I relived Adam’s experiences of relentless racism on and off the field. Memories of my own experiences were stirred up and I wanted to reach out and reconnect with Adam.

‘We share some similar stories and experiences – of disconnection from culture, language and Country, and the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country. We’ve also both got young daughters and don’t want them to have to go through those same experiences.


‘When I was younger and growing up in the foster system in Perth, Indigenous footballers were like heroes to me. Goodesy is much more than a great footballer though, he took a strong stand against racism and said, “enough is enough”. I stand strong with you too, brother.


Namatjira has painted himself alongside Goodes in this portrait. It is the fourth time in the Archibald Prize for the Western Arrernte artist, who was born in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in 1983."

Here are some other works that I hope they give you a little more insight into this year’s Archibald. Yep, they are political.


The late JF Archibald, once editor of the Bulletin and whose bequest in 1919 made the Archibald Prize possible, wanted his prize to preferentially be awarded for the best portrait of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics. I love the fact that this year farmer Charlie Maslin has been deemed a suitable subject for the prestigious award.

image: ‘Soils for life’ portrait of farmer Charlie Maslin by Lucy Culliton


Lucy Culliton and farmer Charlie Maslin both live in the Monaro in southern NSW. Culliton is enthralled by Maslin’s approach to sustainable, regenerative land management, which has transformed his property over the years.


‘Angus cattle and merino sheep are rotationally grazed, giving grasses time to recover. Grass cover is dense, keeping moisture in the soil, so when it rains there’s little run off, with more moisture to feed the plants,’ says Culliton. ‘Charlie has planted around 50,000 trees, creating shelter for stock, habitat for birds, stopping erosion, and making carbon.’


For this Archibald portrait, Culliton had three sittings with Maslin. ‘Charlie would ride his push bike over, so we could work in the comfort of my studio in the middle of winter. I put in the grasses around Charlie later, to place him in his landscape.’


Culliton also has a painting of Maslin’s farm in this year’s Wynne Prize. It is the sixth time in the Archibald Prize and the sixth in the Wynne for the artist, who was born in Sydney in 1966 and studied at the National Art School."


image: ‘Self-portrait after 'Allegory of Painting'’ by Tsering Hannaford


“Tsering Hannaford’s portrait is inspired by a 17th-century painting by Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, titled Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura). ‘I had approached a different sitter, which didn’t eventuate, so I chose to reference an historical figure as I have in previous years through self-portraits,’ says Hannaford.


‘Gentileschi’s c1638–39 portrait inspired me – her use of two mirrors to observe the self in the act of painting is very clever. Taught by her artist father, Gentileschi was the first female member of the Academia of Art in Florence. She was a successful artist in her time; a court painter whose patrons included Charles I of England. Despite her accomplished body of work, she has often been defined by a sexual assault and subsequent trial. In the 20th century, however, she came to be recognised as one of the most inventive painters of her generation.’


Hannaford was born in 1987 in Adelaide. She is predominantly self-taught but has studied classical painting methods in New York, France and Adelaide through short courses and residencies. This is Hannaford’s sixth time as an Archibald Prize finalist." (Highly commended in the Archibald Prize 2020)


Image: ‘Jacinda’ – portrait of Jacinda Adhern by John Ward Knox


New Zealand artist John Ward Knox has known Jacinda Ardern for a decade – well before she became prime minister of New Zealand in 2017. He says: ‘I’ve watched as she has unswervingly held onto her humanity and her morality within a system that increases in complexity, celebrity and aspersion the higher you rise.


‘Our sitting took place at her kitchen table surrounded by the accumulations of life – knick-knacks and a fridge covered in magnets,’ says Ward Knox about this portrait. ‘I wished to portray the person as I’ve seen her – somebody committed to a really tough and unrewarding job, who’s managed to stay grounded despite the whirlwind of domestic and international politics. The eventual portrait was painted from images captured during this session, the dual layers painted separately. I wish the painting to uphold some of the same humility as the subject.’


Born in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) in 1984, Ward Knox lives in Karitane, north of Ōtepoti (Dunedin) in New Zealand’s South Island. He has a Master of Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts in New Zealand, and has been the recipient of that country’s National Drawing Award, in 2008, and the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at Otago University, in 2015."


I think most people agree the Archibald has been representative of many cultural perspectives and I must admit I rather liked the messages on show this year by virtue of them making the finalists' exhibition. The quality of this year’s portraiture itself, honestly? Fair to middling with some obvious stand-outs.


Always worth a visit, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is staggering the entrance of its visitors and observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to this exhibition.


A little history

The Archibald Prize was the first major prize for portraiture in Australian art. It was first awarded in 1921 after the receipt of a bequest from J. F. Archibald, the editor of The Bulletin who died in 1919.

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