Monday 12 September 2011

A visit to the Archibald Portrait exhibition

Yesterday a friend and I drove from Brisbane down to the Tweed River Gallery just over the border in New South Wales. Our visit was to see the Archibald Portrait Exhibition. It  was the most perfect day and the gallery is in an idyllic setting, on a hilltop overlooking the winding Tweed River, lush farmlands below and with the mountains as a backdrop. The view reminded me so much of the Kwa Zulu Natal midlands in South Africa.

The Gallery was originally built alongside the river in 1923 moved to its present location in 2004. A  modern gallery creates wonderful exhibition spaces.Narrow windows frame the spectacular views connecting the landscape to the interior.

The Gallery was packed with people – we wondered why there was such a crowd but put the crush down to the popularity of the exhibition. Then we realised that it was the last day before the Archibald moved on to another regional location, the Moree Plains Gallery.
Photography was not allowed in the exhibition so please click on the links to see images of the paintings.There were 800 entries in this year’s competition, from which 41 paintings  were selected. There’s a wide range of styles, media and sizes from the huge – Ben Quilty’s winning entry of Margaret Olley to the minute. The self portrait, October by Natasha Bieniek is the size of a matchbox - evidence that bigger is not always better.
An unusual mix of watercolour, gouache, acrylic and ink was used on a large canvas for a portrait entitled Mother (a portrait of Cate) by Del Kathryn Barton a previous prize winner.
This video clip of the Exhibition shows some of the work being readied for judging. It gives both an idea of scale as well as an interview with the winning artist. Quilty’s portrait of Margaret Olley shows wonderful handling of very thick oil paint – he says so much with so few absolutely perfectly placed paint-laden strokes. Parts of the face remain bare canvas - there’s no fiddling with paint here – just bold, dramatic application, so thick in parts you feel that it’s going to fall off the canvas. It’s a worthy winner and a wonderful homage to Olley who died in July 2011.

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