Face to face: the Archibald goes to Gippsland

Kathrin Longhurst with her portrait of Kate Ceberano

In a coup for regional Victoria, Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale will host the Archibald Prize 2021 from 8 October. 

Welcoming this year’s Archibald Prize exhibition to Gippsland from the Art Gallery of New South Wales will give a much-needed leg up to local tourism, says Wellington Shire Mayor Garry Stephens, conceding “it’s no secret the region has faced its fair share of challenges over the past couple of years, with drought, bushfires, floods and the ongoing pandemic.”

No question the annual show has pulling power.

Launched a century ago with a bequest from The Bulletin magazine founding editor JF Archibald to promote portraiture and celebrate great Australians, the Archie – as it’s affectionately known – attracts art lovers in their droves.

Over the years the competition has offered up a Who’s Who of Australian culture, profiling over 6000 works from 1500 artists. And for the first time, the competition has achieved gender parity this year: half of the finalists are women artists.

Famous faces from the 52 finalists chosen this year from 938 entries include actor Rachel Griffiths, journalist Kerry O’Brien, former Socceroo Craig Foster, Australian of the Year Grace Tame and the 2021 Archibald Prize-winning portrait of 100-year-old artist and 1985 Archibald winner, Guy Warren, as depicted by Melbourne’s Peter Wegner.

Spotlighting Kate Ceberano

Kate Ceberano prepatory sketchesAlso hanging is the winner of the $3000 Packing Room Prize, of singer Kate Ceberano by Kathrin Longhurst.

Awarded to the best Archibald chosen by the Art Gallery of New South Wales staff who unpack and hang the entries, the oil on linen work was painted earlier this year in Sydney after Kate flew in from Melbourne and completed 14 days of hotel quarantine.

It’s the first time a female artist of a female sitter who has taken out the prize.

“Winning is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” recalls Kathrin. “I jumped on the phone to Kate to pass on the news and she was possibly as excited about it as I was. She’s definitely a lucky charm as she was a sitter for Packing Room Prize-winner Peter Robertson in 1994. I’m incredibly grateful for such a platform for artists to increase their reach and have their voice heard. There’s no other prize or exhibition that has the same reach as the Archibald.”

How did Kathrin come to paint Kate? “Kate had seen my work at [Melbourne artist and mutual friend] David Bromley’s house. I think she really liked the way I portray women as strong and capable. Kate’s a beautiful person to be around; the kind who lives to elevate people around her, encouraging cross-industry collaborations. She told me that moving forward, she only wanted to use painters to create her covers so she can promote other artists. She spent a lot of her time in lockdown fundraising for other performers through the charity, Support Act. It really opened my own eyes to the plight of people in the performing industry and it only felt right that the prize money I got from winning the Packing Room Prize should go to Support Act.”

Serene yet serious, the portrait is “very different to any other imagery of Kate out there,” observes Kathrin. “Being the Australian music icon that she is, Kate often gets portrayed as the entertainer, smiling, laughing. She told me that 2020 had been such a huge year of personal growth and reflection and that was the way she wanted to be portrayed.”

The work was completed in Kathrin’s living room “with my kids and husband having to climb over me. But as many artists have experienced during long periods of lockdown, you make do with what you’ve got and you never stop creating.”

Kate adores the end result. “We both had a little emotional moment and Kate immediately video-called her mum, who’s also an artist, to show off the painting.”

Spotlighting Del Kathryn Barton

Matthew Clarke's portrait of Del Kathryn Barton“Del [an Archibald Prize winner in both 2008 with a self-portrait and in 2013 with a portrait of actor Hugo Weaving] has been my hero since I commenced studying Art, Craft and Design at South West TAFE in 2005,” says Warrnambool-based Archibald finalist Matthew Clarke, who identifies as an artist with an intellectual disability and a mental illness.

Del discovered Matthew’s work via Instagram.

There was mutual admiration and the pair began messaging, culminating in Matthew visiting Sydney to sketch Del for the Archibald. “I love her work, palette and attention to detail. It’s exciting that the Archibald is coming to a regional gallery. I’ve found people working in the arts particularly are responsive to inclusion and accepting diversity.”

The Archibald Prize will be showing at the Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale from 8 October to 21 November 2021.

Book tickets at the Archibald Prize Gippsland website.

Also showing: Archie 100 in Geelong

Geelong Gallery will host Archie 100: A Century of the Archibald Prize from 6 November 2021. Many past Archibald entrants have a connection to the region or are represented in the Geelong Gallery collection, including Albert Namatjira, Kate Beynon, Del Kathryn Barton, John Brack, William Dobell and Brett Whiteley.