“The potency of the Salon des Refusés lies in its absolute democracy." Caroline Zilinsky
‘Contentious’ portrait among Archibald rejects celebrated in own show
by Linda Morris
A seminude portrait of Sydney performance artist Betty Grumble is among a group of rejected entries for this year’s Archibald Prize that has been selected for a second chance appearance in the SH Ervin Gallery’s Salon des Refusés.
Wendy Sharpe’s portrait of Emma Maye Gibson, better known as Grumble, was among 35 portraits selected for the Archibald Prize “alternative” exhibition that opened Saturday, a painting that may well have tested Archibald judges’ sensibilities around nudity.
Sharpe, who has been an Archibald Prize finalist eight times and won the celebrated portrait prize in 1996, painted the “sex clown” in repose nude from the waist down.
The artist speculated the “hint of genitalia” might have made the portrait a “contentious pick” for this year’s Archibald Prize, given finalists are to also tour regional galleries.
“I did work from life, and I spent a day painting [Gibson] sitting there as she talked about things that meant a lot to her, wearing a particular t-shirt and a shell necklace.
“But as a person looking at it, she looks totally relaxed and in her own skin and completely her own person, it’s not gratuitous at all.”
The risk of public offence did not deter the two judges of the Salon des Refusés, an exhibition to rival the “official” Archibald hang and which prides itself on selecting works for quality, diversity, humour and experimentation and that take different approaches to portraiture.
A total of 59 works were selected for the Salon by curator Nick Vickers, and gallery director Jane Watters: 35 from the pool of Archibald Prize entrants on top of 57 that were named as finalists, and another 24 unsuccessful entries for the Wynne Prize for landscape painting and figurative sculpture.
For only the 13th time in the 102-year history of the Archibald Prize, a female artist, Julia Gutman, won Archibald for her portrait of friend and former flatmate Jessica Cerro.
Joining Emma Maye Gibson on the walls of the SH Ervin Gallery in the Rocks is Rodney Pople’s portrait of curator Felicity Fenner, Steve Lopes’s portrait of “anti-war” artist George Gittoes and John Klein’s painting of Claudia Chan Shaw. Sally Ryan’s portrait of Shaw was a finalist for the Archibald Prize.
Caroline Zilinsky painting of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Star Kristopher Elliott, otherwise known as Maxi Shield, made it into the Salon, as did Dean Brown’s portrait of Zilinsky.
Zilinsky regards the Archibald Prize as one beautiful circus while also holding a great affinity for the Salon.
Every artist Zilinsky had spoken to had their own theories and calculations about upping their odds for the Archibald as if there were a “code to a vault with infinite treasure”.
“Some are quite calculated about who they select to paint right through to the colour and scale of the work,” she said.
“For me, a painting has to exist for reasons far greater than an art prize and that is what informs any work I do. “Ultimately, the prize is incidental.
“The potency of the Salon des Refusés lies in its absolute democracy. The artist or sitter’s name is never read out and is judged entirely on the merit of the painting presented. I think that brings an honesty to the exhibition where positions and politics drop away and you’re left with one person peering into the existence of another through the lens of the historic medium and practice of painting.”
Sharpe said she expected some audiences will like her portrait of Gibson while others might not cope.
“I like that famous Mae West quote, “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more”.
The Salon des Refusés takes its name from the 1863 exhibition staged by renegade French impressionists who held a breakaway exhibition from the French Academy.
That first Salon des Refusés included works by Manet and Pissarro.
The Salon des Refusés runs at the SH Ervin Gallery until Sunday, July 23.
Image: Caroline Zilinky’s portrait of Kristopher Elliot, aka Maxi Shield.