Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That Australian life - the Archies are back: a nostalgic excursion

The 2015 Archibald Packing Room Prize has been awarded to French-born Sydney artist Bruno Jean Grasswill for his portrait of actor Michael Caton, known for his role in Australian classic The Castle.

The Packing Room Prize of $1,500, first handed out in 1991, is awarded to the best entry in the Archibald Prize as judged by the gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.

I have written before about the Archies,  Australia's best known portrait prize. As I noted in that April 2013 piece, in recent years I have sometimes been disappointed in the standard of entries. Among other things, most are just so large in physical dimension as to be absolutely un-hangable outside an institution setting. I do like large paintings, but I don't like large paintings dominating.

I first noticed the rise of what I called designer art in 1970. At the time, I was running a small craft/art shop on the side and also working with a friend to run a week-end stall in Garema Place in Canberra. Each time we would pack the little Datsun 1000 station wagon that I had then with the stall and merchandise and cart it all off to Garema Place, load, sell, and re-pack But what could you do with large pieces that could not be fitted in the car or even on the normal wall.  As so often happens when things are stored in garages, they just deteriorate.

I fear that this post has given me a bad case of nostalgia. My friend AC lent me a copy of Judy Cassab's diaries. There I found reference to Joy Warren and Solander Galleries. I knew Joy, of course, but had no real idea how important she was on the Australian art scene. She was just a larger than life figure with whom I was interconnected at several levels. 

Unlike Joy, I was really a dilettante, playing at things, working out romantic and usually impractical ideals  I don't think that I have changed all that much!  However, my knowledge of and capacity to enjoy Australian art is an enduring legacy. I don't pretend to be in any way up to date, I have had neither the time nor money in recent years to do so, but I do try to integrate art in the things I write, to show the interconnections with other aspects of especially Australian life. 

Returning to my starting point, I am looking forward to seeing the Archies this year. I know that I will be disappointed in most of the paintings. However, there will be paintings that I can just sit and look at. That will be fun.   
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Anonymous said...

Jim, I very much agree with you about 'big' but I think for once maybe the packers got it right.

That said, I'm much intrigued by that painting of Daniel Johns. Would love to have the opportunity to view them - and you may take that as a grudging acceptance that in some things, living in the city beats country life :)


Jim Belshaw said...

On the packers, I will need to see the painting! On the city v country, I know that you hate to the d out of kv, but its not a long trip to visit!