How does it feel to be painted for Australia’s biggest art prize?
Actress Tina Bursill, currently starring in the Ensemble Theater production love letters, and next month as an ugly stepmother in Cinderella at the Regent Theater in Melbourne, can sympathize with all NSW residents whose homes have been flooded.
The AACTA award-winning actress has been living in temporary accommodation in the Southern Highlands for six months since disaster struck her family home Bowral in the form of a burst water main.
“It was not just the loss of the family home, but all the memories of my parents’ house,” says the former star of Prisoner, Doctor Doctor and Wentworth.
“Then you have to go through it all and decipher what to keep – and what to throw away – not to mention the musty smell that, no matter how much you wash, never seems to go away.
“I have a huge place in my heart for all those people in northern New South Wales – I understand the heartache – even though the scale there is much worse,” she says.
Not only did she move from Bondi to the Southern Highlands last year, but she also had health issues recently and underwent breast surgery.
Bursill is said to be one of the best-known Australian female faces on the small screen. That’s why Denistone-based artist John Klein asked her to pose for him as the subject of this year’s Archibald Portrait Prize.
The two met at a Variety Club charity night at the Chatswood Chase mall, where Klein worked in marketing before giving up her job to focus on her art. They spent several hours on a very hot Sydney day in his studio for the shoot, while he drew it.
“I really wanted to show the blue of the sea that she loves and the sun and sand of her time at Bondi Beach before her move to Bowral,” Klein explains.
“I also made her hair look windswept and wanted to include a piece of jewelry – a necklace that she has a special connection to and always wears,” he explains.
Bursill says: “The necklace was given to me by one of the great people of Darlinghurst who recently passed away. A woman called Elizabeth Burton who was a stripper who saw me at a time when I was having a series of breast operations.
“I met her at a wake and when she found out what I was going through she gave me the necklace with a turquoise stone from a Native American Navajo and including crystals that belonged to her grandmother.
“She was aware of my vulnerability and took the necklace around her neck and placed it on me. I still wear it now and treasure it,” she says.
“I tried to capture some of that vulnerability but also its strength in the painting,” says Klein, who admits he was nervous the first time he revealed the painting to Bursill.
“I was instantly seduced. I could see the brightness and my gaze – but I think he observed the desire in me,” Bursill says.
This week Klein was one of hundreds of artists who personally submitted their nominations for Australia’s best-known portrait award, which this year enters its 101st year.
So did Tony Costa, the 2019 winner for his portrait of Lindy Lee, who this year painted documentary photographer Roger Scott, during a session at Costa’s Strathfield studio.
“He’s a good friend and I was struck by his gentle, shy personality,” Costa said of his subject.
“I’m more interested in a person’s mind and Roger has a strong mind. He had a tragedy in his life and you can see it in his face, I tried to capture that.
Costa, a 10-time Archibald finalist, has toured with the 2019 Archibald exhibit for the past two years, between closings, and one thing he’s learned is how much the $100,000 art prize , named in honor of the first editor of The bulletinJF Archibald, est.
“Everyone loves the Archibald. Artists usually choose to paint people who are dear to them. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity, it can be your local costume, as long as the person is special to the artist, you’ll see it in the work,” he says.
“It doesn’t have to be a celebrity, it can be your local garbo – as long as the person is special to the artist, you’ll see it in the work.”
Tony Costa, 2019 Archibald winner
Flooding was a common theme among attendees this year, with artists such as Blak Douglas painting a picture of his friend Karla Dickens, from Lismore, wading through rainwater carrying leaky buckets.
For his Wynne Prize entry, Palm Beach photographer Paul Farrar painted an abstract painting of the Colo River, the area of Hawkesbury along Putty Road that regularly floods. Entitled Downtown Personal Landscape, Colo River Dawn #22, it was reminiscent of a flooded landscape and was even wet with rain as he delivered it to judgment.
The 2022 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes will be on display at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 14 to August 28, before touring the NSW and Victoria regions. The Archibald winner will be announced on May 13.
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