ART JUDGES ACCUSED OF DRAWING WRONG CONCLUSION
PROPPED against the wall of an otherwise dull courtroom, the piercing black eyes of the actor David Gulpilil stare intently from the huge Archibald Prize-winning portrait.
His brow is furrowed, and with good reason.
The striking depiction by Craig Ruddy, which won him the Archibald and the People’s Choice awards in 2004, is at the centre of a legal fight on the definition of the word painting.
Tony Johansen, a Kings Cross artist and regular Archibald entrant, says the Art Gallery of NSW Trust should not have awarded the prize to Ruddy because his work is “not a painting but a drawing” and was thus ineligible because it breached the 1916 will of the late Jules Francois Archibald.
Johansen, who submitted a portrait of Carlotta, of Les Girls, wants the gallery to reconsider the $35,000 award.
Yesterday, at the start of a two-day hearing in the NSW Supreme Court, a bevy of barristers pondered the distinction between a painting and drawing and how the former should be defined.
Ruddy, 37, of Tamarama, used acrylic paint, charcoal (stick and powdered), pencil, Conte sticks (a form of crayon), pastels and varnish in his work, which took two weeks.
He applied the material on a pale-yellow, patterned wallpaper with a damp cloth and his hands.
“There are many, many stages of the work … the pigment was built up,” he told the court. Charcoal comprised about 75 per cent, he said.
Chris Birch, SC, for Johansen, said that based on “factual issues”, the picture “cannot properly be described as painted”.
“We say that it’s an important principle that a renowned prize such as this should be awarded to these works which are intended to be the recipients, and only those,” Dr Birch said.
Brett Walker, SC, for the art gallery, said it was a “bizarre proposition” that it was not a painting.
Michel Sourgnes, an international art consultant, agreed with Mr Walker that using a rag to move materials, smudging or scraping did not mean a picture was not a painting.
Elizabeth Churcher, a former director of the National Gallery of Australia, said that where materials, including powder, were “suspended” in a liquid such as water or varnish, then it became a painting.
Outside court Ruddy said his work combined methods of drawing and painting.
“A lot of people are traditionalists and very set in ways and I think that’s what this is about.”
In 1944 William Dobell’s portrait of the artist Joshua Smith was alleged to be a caricature. A court ruled it was a portrait.
In 1975 the trust reversed a decision to award the prize to John Bloomfield for a portrait of the film director Tim Burstall because it was painted from a photo. In 1981 Bloomfield sued, unsuccessfully.
Sydney Morning Herald Section: News and Features Page: 3The striking depiction by Craig Ruddy, which won him the Archibald and the People’s Choice awards in 2004, is at the centre of a legal fight on the definition of the word painting.