Sydney artist Claus Stangl’s painting of Aotearoa New Zealand filmmaker, actor and comedian Taika Waititi has won the Archibald Prize’s Packing Room Prize — kicking off ‘Archies season’ in Sydney.
It is Stangl’s second time as an Archibald finalist, having previously been selected in 2020 for his portrait of Sydney hip hop artist L-FRESH The LION.
The UK-born painter said “he couldn’t believe it” when Waititi agreed to sit for him, having sent the director a detailed “treatment” of ideas for the portrait while he was shooting the forthcoming Marvel blockbuster Thor: Love and Thunder in Sidney.
“I didn’t hear anything for for a few weeks … and [then] I got the phone call on a Wednesday and was told that he’s available Friday, so I had one day to get my act together. But it came out trumps,” Stangl said.
“I’ve admired his work for so many years,” he said, dating his admiration back to watching Waititi’s film Boy in 2010.
Stangl’s portrait of Waititi is one of 52 finalists in one of Australia’s longest-running and richest awards, with a prize pool of $108,000.
Announcing the winner of the Packing Room Prize, head packer Brett Cuthbertson, who has the deciding vote, said Waititi had a “vision and a twisted sense of humor that we all need right now” in a “world full of war and COVID — it’s pretty miserable at times”.
He also announced that 2022 is his last year in the role, as he is retiring after 41 years.
Reflecting the big issues
This year’s Archibald Prize exhibition, which will open to the public on May 14, reflects the issues that have concerned many Australians over the last two years, from COVID to natural disasters and climate change.
Anne Ryan, long-serving curator of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, said she was surprised to see that these issues “are [only just] coming to the fore a little bit more now”.
“I think artists have had time to sort of percolate on some of these big things that have impacted on us all. And so the people that they’re choosing to paint are people who are really kind of standing up and making a difference — whether that’s in the sphere of the environment, or in the sphere of political change.”
She pointed to 2018 Archibald winner Yvette Coppersmith’s portrait of young climate activist Ella Simons, and Sydney painter Blak Douglas’s portrait of fellow artist and friend Karla Dickens, who lives in NSW’s Northern Rivers, and is depicted standing in floodwaters while holding a leaking bucket full of water in each hand.
(Dickens told ABC Arts in April that the holes in the buckets symbolize the government’s inaction on climate change.)
Artist Jude Rae chose to paint Australian engineer and inventor Saul Griffith, the author of The Big Switch: Australia’s Electric Future, and a former climate and energy adviser to US President Joe Biden.
Anh Do, host of ABC TV’s Anh’s Brush With Fame, painted Midnight Oil frontman and former Labor cabinet minister Peter Garrett, a longtime advocate for climate action.
Ryan says the Archibald Prize is unusual in that it’s not just about great painting — it’s also about reflecting contemporary Australian society.
“So it’s got the extra level, about who is painted [and] the stories of the people that the artists have chosen to paint.”
Reflecting Australian society
Close attention is paid to the gender breakdown of the Archibald Prize each year, and the other ways in which it reflects the diversity of Australian artists and society.
This year, the prize slipped from the precise gender parity of 2021 to a 42 to 58 per cent split between men and women finalists; however across the three prizes — including the Wynne and Sulman finalists — men and women were equally represented in 2022.
It was a banner year for Indigenous Australian participation in the prize, with 20 of the 816 Archibald entries — the highest known number according to the Art Gallery of NSW — by Aboriginal artists.
Of these, the three chosen by the judges were previous finalist Blak Douglas (aka Adam Hill), a self-taught painter of Dhungutti and Irish-Australian heritage, with his painting of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens; Western Arrernte artist and 2020 winner Vincent Namatjira, with another self-portrait; and Daniel Boyd — an established artist of Kudjla/Gangalu heritage, making his Archibald debut with a portrait of Western Sydney drill rap group OneFour.
Curator Anne Ryan says the prize is becoming more reflective of Australia in other ways, and points to the high number of Archibald finalists this year from Sydney’s Studio A, which supports artists living with intellectual disability.
Thom Roberts and Emily Crockford, who were first-time finalists in 2021 and 2020 respectively, made the cut again in 2022, alongside fellow Studio A artists Meagan Pelham and Catherine McGuiness.
“They’re creating some really fun and interesting and kind of fascinating paintings,” Ryan said of the Studio A contingent.
This year is also notable for the high proportion of first-time finalists — “which I always find very refreshing,” says Ryan.
“It’s always wonderful to see the work of artists that you don’t know.”
Exhibitions for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes will open on Saturday May 14 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.