Actor Meyne Wyatt wins Archibald Packing Room Prize with self-portrait

Actor Meyne Wyatt has won the Archibald Prize’s Packing Room Prize for his self-portrait.The prize, announced by head packer Brett Cuthbertson on Thursday morning at the Art Gallery of NSW, was accompanied by the unveiling of the 55 finalists in this year’s Archibald Prize for portraiture — one of the country’s oldest and richest art awards, with a purse of $100,000.Archies 2020The Archibald Prize is in its 99th yearTwelve of this year’s 55 finalist works are self-portraitsOf the finalist painters, 22 are first-time Archibald finalistsThe finalists are chosen by the Art Gallery of NSW Board of Trustees……which includes artists Khadim Ali and Ben QuiltyThe Archibald Prize will be announced on September 25The announcement kicks off ‘Archies season’, with concurrent exhibitions of the Wynne Prize (for landscape painting) and the Sulman Prize (for “subject painting, genre painting or mural project”). Cuthbertson, who has made no secret of his preference for celebrity portraits since he took on the head packer role in 2018, told the ABC he was a bit worried when this year’s Archibald entries started rolling in — with a preponderance of self-portraits. Angus McDonald’s portrait of author, journalist, artist and academic Behrouz Boochani.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)”I like to pick a famous face, and it’s getting harder and harder [each year] — particularly this year because I guess a lot of those famous faces weren’t available, or artists couldn’t get out to actually paint them,” Cuthbertson said.Packing Room PrizeHas been award annually since 1992Has a cash prize of $1500Is selected by the gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries……but the head packer has 52 per cent of the voteThe winner is chosen from all entries, not just the finalistsCuthbertson, who has worked at the Art Gallery of NSW for 39 years, said there were more Archies entries than usual this year. “It was a huge amount — obviously because a lot of people were sitting at home doing nothing — so they painted!” he said.”There were a lot of first-timers this year.” Yoshio Honjo’s portrait of chef and TV presenter Adam Liaw, entitled Adam with bream.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)The surge in productivity was compounded by an extension of the deadline from April until August, after the exhibition’s original opening date of May was postponed due to COVID-19. Tianli Zu’s portrait of scientist and conservationist Tim Flannery, entitled Tim and kelp.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Cuthbertson said many of this year’s entries showed people wearing face masks, and many depicted firefighters and other key figures from the summer’s bushfires.”Obviously the tragedies and bad things that happened this year have been playing on people’s minds,” he said. Unpacking in a pandemicCOVID-19 meant changes to ‘business as usual’ for the gallery’s packing staff: entries are usually received over a one-week period leading up to the deadline, but this year it was expanded to two weeks, to allow for fewer people in the loading dock and a more fiddly unpacking process. Wendy Sharpe’s portrait of comedian and actor Magda Szubanski, entitled Magda Szubanski – comedy and tragedy.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Works are generally delivered by courier or the artists themselves — some travelling from Queensland or Victoria to hand-deliver their works.”Usually, when it’s all happening in one week, you’ll have trucks arrive and there’ll be people on the dock unloading trucks and then people coming in — just too many people, all in close proximity,” Cuthbertson said. Scott Marsh’s portrait of rapper, record label owner and writer Adam Briggs, entitled Salute of gentle frustration.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)”This year we had people stationed out [front] on the dock, getting people to sign in as they came in one-by-one. Everyone was masked, everyone wore gloves. We had the dock marked out with crosses so that if there was a line-up, people had to stand apart.” Charlene Carrington’s portrait of artist Churchill Cann, entitled My dad, Churchill Cann.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Cuthbertson’s team had to wear gloves and masks not only while dealing with artists and couriers, but in order to unpack hundreds of works — including many from Victoria. “At that stage they were going through a really bad time,” he said. Guy Maestri portrait of journalist and presenter Jennifer Byrne, entitled JB reading.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Cuthbertson said the new process “worked like clockwork” in the end — but he missed the buzz that normally accompanied ‘deadline week’.”You have so many artists in the packing room at one time, and they all get in there and it’s like a big family get-together or a party — it’s the buzz, you get a real high off all that,” he said. “But of course we couldn’t do that this time — you could only have three artists in there at the one time, everyone was spaced out. I really missed that buzz.”What about the rest of the finalists?This year’s Archibald exhibition has the strongest Indigenous representation — on and off the walls — since the prize’s inception, featuring portraits by Blak Douglas, Thea Anamara Perkins, Vincent Namatjira (highly commended in 2018, for his self-portrait) and Tiger Yaltangki. Kaylene Whiskey’s self-portrait, entitled Dolly visits Indulkana.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Among the first-time Archibald finalists were Charlene Carrington, Kaylene Whiskey (who won the Sir John Sulman Prize in 2018) and actor Meyne Wyatt. Vincent Namatjira’s self-portrait with Adam Goodes, entitled Stand strong for who you are.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)Indigenous talent was also reflected on the walls, with 10 portraits of Indigenous Australians — a record — including former AFL star Adam Goodes, rapper and writer Adam Briggs aka Briggs, Sydney elder Uncle Charles “Chicka” Madden, author Bruce Pascoe, and teen healer and activist Dujuan Hoosen, who in 2019 became the youngest person ever to address the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Blak Douglas aka Adam Hill’s portrait of Dujuan Hoosen (subject of documentary In My Blood It Runs), entitled Writing in the sand.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)This year’s Archibald crop is also notable for its dearth of ‘celebrities’ or big-name actors, in favour of news figures like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and TV personalities including Adam Liaw and Annabel Crabb. Jane Guthleben’s portrait of journalist and TV presenter Annabel Crabb, entitled Annabel, the baker.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW) John Ward Knox’s portrait of Jacinda Adern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, entitled Jacinda.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)The upside, however, is that this exhibition looks more representative of contemporary, everyday Australia itself than ever before. Claus Stangl’s portrait of musician L-Fresh the Lion.(Supplied: Art Gallery Of NSW)The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman exhibitions open to the public on September 26.

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