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The Art Gallery of NSW's Prestigious Archibald Prize Has Announced Its 2020 Finalists

Here are five of our favourite portraits up for the top gong.
By Samantha Teague and Cordelia Williamson
September 21, 2020
By Samantha Teague and Cordelia Williamson
September 21, 2020

Australia's most prestigious portrait award is around the corner, and its finalists have just been announced.

Every year, speculation about who will be awarded the coveted prize and, more often than not, the Archibald winner itself, causes much-heated debate. From 2018's five-time Archibald finalist Yvette Coppersmith's first win to Tony Costa's win with his painting of fellow artist Lindy Lee — the first portrait of an Asian Australian to pick up the prize — it's hard a win to pick. All that's really assured is that it'll be a portrait of a person by an Australian.

Held at the Art Gallery of NSW every year, the Archibald runs in conjunction with the Wynne and Sulman Prizes — recognising the best landscape painting of Australian scenery, or figure sculpture and the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project, respectively.

This year, because of a certain pandemic, the Archibald was postponed and is running from September 2020 to January 2021. As usual, it's sure to be popular, but instead of pushing through crowds to see the prized portraits, you'll have a bit of space thanks to reduced capacities and timed tickets.

And you'll have some exceptional artworks to feast your eyes upon, too. Famed Sydney street artist Scott Marsh's portrait of musician Adam Briggs has made the cut, as have a haunting painting of comedian Magda Szubanski and a Star Trek-esque oil work of NSW Minister for Environment and Energy Matt Kean.

Wongutha-Yamatji artist Meyne Wyatt has also taken out the coveted 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize, chosen by the packing room team, becoming the first Indigenous Australian to win any Archibald award in the competition's 99-year history.

As there are so many outstanding portraits this year (as there are every year), it's impossible to know which of the 55 is going to take home the $100,000 prize. Regardless, here are some of our favourites — and some we think may have a good chance of winning.


Meyne Wyatt, 'Meyne', copyright the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling


Actor and artist Meyne Wyatt became the first Indigenous Australian in Archibald history to win any of the competition's awards when he won the 2020 Archibald Packing Room Prize. The history-making self-portrait is a realistic acrylic painting and, in fact, Wyatt's first painting in over ten years. The Wongutha-Yamatji man and first-time Archibald entrant has no formal art training, but gets some handy tips from his mum Sue Wyatt who was herself an Archibald finalist in 2003. If the portrait above, and Wyatt's signature raised eyebrow, look familiar, it's likely you've seen him in the likes of The Sapphires, Redfern Now and Neighbours.


Scott Marsh, 'Salute of gentle frustration'. Copyright the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Felicity Jenkins


Artist Scott Marsh's portraits aren't a rare site on the streets of Sydney (see: Egg Boy, Mike Baird and Kanye Loves Kanye) but they are a rare site on the walls of the AGNSW. The first-time finalist has joined the ranks of the country's art elite with his seventh submission to the Archibald Prize: a portrait of Indigenous Australian rapper Adam Briggs. The portrait is entitled Salute of gentle frustration, which Marsh says references "the deep fatigue of generations of Aboriginal people demanding equality against a backdrop of political rhetoric and inaction".


Kaylene Whiskey, 'Dolly visits Indulkana'. Copyright the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling.


Self-taught artist Kaylene Whiskey listens to the music of famed American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton while she paints. It's an effective technique, it seems, with Whiskey already cleaned up the Sulman Prize in 2018 and the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for general painting in 2019. Now, Whiskey is one of 55 finalists selected for the Archibald Prize with a self-portrait in which Dolly visits her home in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. In the painting, Dolly holds a bejewelled guitar and the pair is surrounded by clocks, cameras, superwomen, galahs and a flying nun.


Angus McDonald, 'Behrouz Boochani'. Copyright the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling.


This year, after more than six years in an Australian offshore detention centre, celebrated Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani was granted asylum in New Zealand. Sydney artist Angus McDonald first made contact with Boochani when he was making a documentary, called Manus, about the Manus Island detention centre, but was not allowed onto the island to meet him. So, when Boochani landed in NZ, McDonald decided to fly there and paint him instead. The oil portrait sees Boochani looking directly at the viewer, which McDonald says portrays Boochani as a "a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived a brutal ordeal and is now free".


Yuri Shimmyo, 'Carnation, lily, Yuri, rose'. Copyright the artist. Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling.


Japan-born, Sydney-based artist Yuri Shimmyo's inspiration for her self-portrait came from a 19th-century painting by John Singer Sargent called Carnation, lily, lily, rose. While Sargent's painting features two girls playing in a garden, Shimmyo's features herself — Yuri means 'lily' in Japanese — covered in lilies, surrounded by a wallpaper of roses. As for the carnations, if you look to the left of the oil portrait, you'll red-and-blue tins of Carnation milk.


The winning portraits and finalists will be on display at Sydney's Art Gallery of NSW from Saturday, September 26 to Sunday, January 10. If you do't agree with the judges, you can cast your own vote for People's Choice before Sunday, December 13.


Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney — September 26–January 10
Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, NSW — January 22–March 7
Cairns Art Gallery, Qld — March 19–May 2
Griffith Regional Art Galley, NSW — May 14–June 27
Broken Hill Regional Art Galley, NSW — July 9–August 22
Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, NSW — September 3–October 17
Penrith Regional Gallery, NSW — October 29–December 5

If you can't make it to any of the above dates, you can check out the award winners and finalists of the ArchibaldWynne and Sulman Prizes on the Art Gallery of NSW website.

Published on September 21, 2020 by Samantha Teague
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