Press

THERE’S A FINE LINE BETWEEN PAINTING AND DRAWING

THERE may be a fine line between a painting and a drawing, but when it comes to the prestigious Archibald Prize, Sydney artist Tony Johansen believes it is worth arguing the point.

Johansen is taking legal action in the NSW Supreme Court against the Art Gallery of NSW over the 2004 Archibald-winning portrait by Craig Ruddy.

Ruddy’s powerful portrait of Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil won both the Archibald people’s choice award and the $35,000 portrait prize that year.

But Johansen argues that because Ruddy’s portrait predominantly used charcoal, it was a drawing, not a painting, and therefore was ineligible.

In court yesterday, Ruddy admitted to using crushed charcoal and charcoal sticks, conte crayons and pencils, in the portrait, titled Two Worlds, but said he also used acrylic paint.

However, Johansen’s lawyer, Chris Birch, SC, said that during an interview with a reporter after winning the Archibald, Ruddy said 90 per cent of his work was done with charcoal.

When asked if he remembered saying this, Ruddy replied: “I do, yes. But I would say adding together everything, probably more accurately around 75 per cent now.”

Mr Birch said the portrait did not fit with the wording of Jules Francis Archibald’s will.

He said that according to the 1916 will, the Archibald was designed to be “the best portrait preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia during the 12 months preceding the date fixed by the trustees . . . ” He said the portrait “cannot properly be described as painted”.

Counsel for the Art Gallery of NSW, Brett Walker, SC, said he was confident Justice John Hamilton would be “comfortably satisfied that there is at least a proper basis for an intelligible opinion that this was painted”.

Outside court, when asked if he thought Johansen’s court action was a case of sour grapes, Ruddy replied: “I’ve been told that by many, many people. I believe that may be so.”

He said art was “beyond definition” and was a “reflection of the times”.

Johansen’s acrylic portrait of entertainer Carlotta was unsuccessful in the 2004 competition.

The hearing continues.

It is not the first controversy over the Archibald Prize. In 1944, the prize awarded to William Dobell for his portrait of Joshua Smith was challenged.

The painting’s opponents argued it was a caricature or fantasy, but a court upheld Dobell’s award on the grounds that the painting, while exaggerated and distorted, was undoubtedly a pictorial representation of him.

The Age Section: News Page: 7THERE may be a fine line between a painting and a drawing, but when it comes to the prestigious Archibald Prize, Sydney artist Tony Johansen believes it is worth arguing the point.

BACK TO PRESS OVERVIEW