‘It wasn’t an easy year to pick, there was a lively and thoughtful debate, but in the end, the judges were unanimous in their choices.’ – Board President, David Gonski in awarding the 2019 winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes.
Sydney artist Tony Costa has won the 2019 Archibald Prize for his portrait of fellow artist Lindy Lee, a leading contemporary Australian artist herself. Her art practice explores her Chinese ancestry through the philosophies of Taoism and Zen Buddhism.
‘What matters to me is not visual accuracy but feelings above all else. In a nutshell, that’s what I do,’ Costa said of his painting.
After listening to an interview Lee gave at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) he found himself agreeing with many of her ideas. ‘I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice,’ Costa said.
‘In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. The challenge for me was to capture the energy of Lindy – the emotional over and above the physical,’ Costa added.
This is the first Archibald-winning portrait to feature an Asian Australian sitter in the 98-year history of the prize.
‘The work is clearly the product of close and sympathetic observation by Tony. Its strong, expressive painterliness and minimal palette project a sense of calm and repose, reflective of Lindy Lee’s Zen Buddhist practice,’ said AGNSW director Michael Brand.
In addition to Costa’s win, the AGNSW Trustees awarded a highly commended honour to Jude Rae for her portrait of actor Sarah Peirse as Miss Docker in Patrick White’s play A cheery soul. Rae was also an Archibald Prize finalist in 2014 with another portrait of Peirse.
Sylvia Ken’s Seven Sisters has won the 2019 Wynne Prize of $50,000, awarded annually for ‘the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists’. Ken’s win is the fourth year in a row that Indigenous artists have been awarded the Wynne Prize, starting with the Ken Family Collaborative in 2016, Betty Kuntiwa Pumani in 2017 and Yukultji Napangati in 2018.
From the Amata community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in South Australia, Ken’s family are traditional owners for significant sites where the Seven Sisters story takes place.
‘I have worked for years at Tjala Arts in Amata community. I paint the story of my country – the Seven Sisters story. This story is important for me, and for so many women across the APY Lands. I am so honoured to be recognised for my work. Today is an important day for me, but I share my prize with everyone at my art centre and all the women who I work alongside celebrating the Seven Sisters Tjukurpa,’ Ken said.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said Ken’s painting has extraordinary visual depth; ‘This complex work recalls the starry skies of the Milky Way as much as it does the rest of the land where the Seven Sisters story takes place, on Sylvia’s country where her family are the traditional owners.’
Natasha Bieniek’s landscape painting Reflection has been recognised as a highly commended finalist in the 2019 Wynne Prize. Pairing intricate oil painting with a large gold-mirrored surface Reflection explores Bieniek’s ongoing interest in the relationship between people and nature within an urban context.
Yirrkala-based artist Noŋgirrŋa Marawili’s Pink lightning wins 2019 Roberts Family Prize for her work, an annual prize of $10,000 awarded to an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander artist. Marawili depicts her country, Baraltja, north of Cape Shield in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Pink lightning presents the cyclonic, crocodile-infested waters with huge tides and ripping currents. Rocks are set in deep water between the electric ‘curse’ that the lighting snake spits into the sky and the sea spray from the ocean waves trying to shift the rocks’ immovable foundation.
Robyn Sweaney’s Perfect uncertainty wins 2019 Trustees’ Watercolour Prize, valued at $5000. Sweaney’s watercolour of a simple home in a small rural town in Victoria considers light and shade, colour and balance and is imbued with a sense of history.
McLean Edwards gets lucky with The first girl that knocked on his door, winning the 2019 Sulman Prize, valued at $40,000 and awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.
In judging the prize, artist Fiona Lowry was reminded of an interview she recently read with the artist Eric Fischl where he suggests that artists are looking for love, and they are expressing love in their commitment to what they have made.
‘This idea of love resonates as you walk around these rooms and listen to each distinct voice and the earnestness of each artist’s work hanging on the wall, wanting you to look at them and to care and connect,’ said Lowry.
‘Deciding a winner was fraught, but it was the sound of McLean Edwards’ The first girl that knocked on his door that I came back to – it reminded me of the heartbreak that love can bring with it and where the end is often in the beginning,’ Lowry added.
Finalists in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize will be exhibited at the AGNSW from 11 May to 8 September 2019.