Sydney artist Tony Costa has won the 2019 Archibald Prize for his portrait of artist Lindy Lee – a leading contemporary Australian artist herself. Her art practice explores her Chinese ancestry through the philosophies of Taoism and Zen Buddhism.
On hearing the news Costa said “I’m absolutely overwhelmed, honoured and thrilled. I am very aware of all those who have come before me as Archibald Prize winners and I am humbled, to say the least. What matters to me is not visual accuracy but feelings above all else. In a nutshell, that’s what I do.”
Costa said he listened to an interview Lindy gave at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and found himself agreeing with many of her ideas. “I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice,” he said.
“In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. The challenge for me was to capture the energy of Lindy – the emotional over and above the physical,” Costa added.
Born in Sydney in 1955, Costa completed postgraduate studies at the City Art Institute. He has been represented in the Wynne Prize, the Sulman Prize and the Dobell Prize for Drawing, and won the Paddington Art Prize for landscape painting in 2014. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Lindy Lee, herself an Archibald finalist in 2002, has appeared as a subject in 2006, painted by Bin Xie, and 2012, in a portrait by Kate Beynon. This is the first Archibald-winning portrait to feature an Asian Australian sitter* in the 98-year history of the prize.
Upon hearing of Costa’s win Lee said from Shanghai, “It was very enjoyable to sit for Tony. He just asked me to sit still in meditation for a few hours which is kind of like my favourite sport. I’m thrilled that he’s won,” she said. “He’s been a very prolific and hardworking artist for many decades and he deserves to win this wonderful prize.”
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said that Costa’s work had been selected as a finalist and then as the winner from a record number of entries for the Archibald Prize.
“The work is clearly the product of close and sympathetic observation by Tony. Its strong, expressive painterliness and minimal palette project a sense of calm and repose, reflective of Lindy Lee’s Zen Buddhist practice,” said Brand.
In awarding the 2019 winners of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, Board president David Gonski said: “It wasn’t an easy year to pick, there was a lively and thoughtful debate, but in the end the judges were unanimous in their choices.”
This year the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trustees awarded a highly commended honour to Jude Rae for her portrait of actor Sarah Peirse as Miss Docker in Patrick White’s play A cheery soul. Rae was also an Archibald Prize finalist in 2014 with another portrait of Peirse.
In other awards, the 2019 Wynne Prize was awarded to Sylvia Ken for her work, Seven Sisters, while Natasha Bieniek was recognised as a highly commended finalist for her landscape painting, Reflection. Nongirrna Marawili was awarded the 2019 Roberts Family Prize for her work, Pink lightning.
The Trustees’ Watercolour Prize was presented to Robyn Sweaney for her work, Perfect uncertainy, and McLean Edwards has been awarded the 2019 Sulman Prize for his work, The first girl that knocked on his door.
An exhibition of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman winners and finalists is now on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 8 September 2019. For more information, visit: www.artgallery.new.gov.au for details.
Image: Tony Costa, Lindy Lee, 2019 (detail), oil on canvas, 182.5 x 152 cm – courtesy of the artist and Art Gallery of New South Wales