The Archibald Prize is a prestigious portraiture competition run annually by the Art Gallery of NSW. It is awarded to the best portrait of a person distinguished in either art, letters, science or politics. Rules of the competition; artist must be resident in Australia in the 12 months prior to competition entry, artist must personally know the subject and the subject must know and agree to the entry of their portrait, participating in at least one ‘live’ sitting.
Above is the finished entry for 2006 of Dr. John Wamsley. This was painted from life by Kendrea Rhodes and entered into the Archibald prize for 2006. It didn’t make the final cut, but due to its creation, it did make a lasting friendship. Dr. Wamsley is an Australian biodiversity advocate striving to save Australian native flora and fauna, using some unusual methods at times. His current project in the Adelaide Hills is the sustenance of Wirrapunga, an endangered grassy woodland habitat in the Aldgate Valley.
Following are the steps, methods and decisions involved in this portrait:
- meet John at his home, do quick sketches, take photos – but most importantly talk. We both like red wine – good start.
- grid lines drawn on cartridge paper for the sketches, to get proportions right.
- same grid lines transferred to canvas
- basic facial tones blocked in
- beard painted in to be blocked out later (that’s the plan at this stage)
- Fill in skin and background blocks
- Link foreground and background colours – blue/green of background, use in shadow of nose, red of cheeks used in background.
- Refine colour detail in each block, using more flesh tones on the light source side
- Block in the beard – this was a hard decision to make and frowned upon by most. After all, we love a white fluffy beard and its santa-like connotations made it almost blasphemous for me to disguise. Almost.
- With hindsight, and from an artistic point of view, I wish I’d blocked in the lips at the same time. But, from an emotional point of view, I didn’t want to stop John from speaking as there aren’t enough champions in Australia for our native flora and fauna. So I left the lips.
- Blocks in beard are elongated to imply length
- Insert background greens and greys into beard linking the two areas.
- Insert red skin tones into beard to link the two.
- Ensuring all elements are linked is not just an artistic decision for aesthetic satisfaction. The colours of the Australian bush (in the background) are embedded into John’s physical appearance (foreground); this was a conscious statement to show the depth of his commitment.
Final product. Beard was trimmed somewhat and more detail painted into the blocks. This painting was exhibited at the ‘Out of the Blue’ Exhibition at the Lobethal Mill Gallery in South Australia. Two questions were asked repeatedly;
‘why didn’t you stop then?’ & ‘why did you stop then?’
The answer being the same for both,
‘it’s hard to know when to stop, but when you’re on a deadline, you work to it. Sometimes right up to it.’