Art Gallery of New South Wales head packer Brett Cuthbertson and his packing room team have awarded the 2019 Archibald Packing Room Prize to West Australian hyperreal artist Tessa MacKay for her portrait is of renowned actor and producer David Wenham titled Through the looking glass.
Cuthbertson, with 52 per cent of the vote for the Archibald Packing Room Prize said he ‘loved the work’ from the moment his packing room colleague Stu, brought it to his attention. “Tessa’s is a really interesting portrait – there’s a lot happening in it. I’ve been looking at it every day since it came into the Gallery,” he said.
“I love that your eyes are drawn to the pairing of the salt and sugar, and the glass vase in the foreground. That David’s in it is a bonus! Maybe that makes it Still life with David? I love the reflection of the glass and that David’s in a reflective mood too. We blokes have a lot to think about these days!”
On hearing the news that she’d won the 2019 Packing Room Prize, MacKay – a newcomer finalist, said she was ‘thrilled’. “It took a while for the news to properly land with me. I was still processing the fact that I was a finalist. Portraiture provides an opportunity for me to capture my subject’s personality, drawing the viewer’s empathy and curiosity.”
“David’s thoughtful gaze in the middle of the work is a kind of anchor. The portrait is about stepping into David’s world. I like to think that his somewhat pensive eyes, lost in thought, are another kind of ‘looking glass’ that we’re peering into.”
“Sydney had to be part of David’s portrait, but I wanted to nestle David within a figurative essence of Sydney. Painting the streetscape reflections merging into the cafe interior meant that I could depict Sydney in a more interesting and playful way and it gave me the space to capture a multi-layered and complex urban world,” she added.
Wenham said he felt privileged to sit for MacKay who he met through her husband – a writer / director. “A couple of years ago Tess asked if I would consider sitting for her. After viewing her previous portraits it was clear Tess was an immensely talented artist,” he said.
“Tess’s portraits are each carefully considered and not only display her supreme technical facility but also offer an insight into what fascinates or intrigues her about the subject. Aware of my fondness for sitting, people watching and general day dreaming, Tess had a very clear vision of what the look, feel and purpose of the portrait should be.
“Once the location for the portrait was locked in I couldn’t really fathom how on earth Tess was going to pull the painting off. Windows within windows, multiple reflections and numerous light sources added a degree of technical difficulty that was beyond my brain processing capacity,” added Wenham.
Wenham was the subject of Jordan Richardson’s portrait David Wenham and hat in 2018. He was also the subject of Adam Cullen’s Archibald Prize-winning Portrait of David Wenham in 2000.
The Packing Room Prize – a cash prize of $1500 for the artist – is awarded to the best entry in the Archibald Prize as judged by the gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.
Finalists for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes were also announced today, as were the finalists for the Young Archie competition. This year a record number of entries for the Archibald Prize were received by the Gallery, numbering 919. The previous record was 884 in 2014.
Finalists in all Prizes will be exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW from 11 May to 8 September 2019. For more information, visit: www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au for details.
Image: Tessa Mackay, Through the looking glass, 2019. oil on linen, 210 × 330.5 cm, © the artist – photo by Mim Stirling / AGNSW