On Friday, May 11, the Archibald Prize was awarded to Yvette Coppersmith’s artwork, ‘Self-portrait, after George Lambert’. Whether or not it is truly styled after George Lambert is broadly irrelevant to the point of this article, although I feel the need to point out that it, and many other self-portraits just like it that Coppersmith has painted, have more in common with the female narcissism of Fridah Kahlo, just without the unibrow.
No matter. It was an inoffensive and milquetoast painting resembling that of someone in their final year of art school in 1932. What was more important about this round of Art Gallery of New South Wales prizes were the winners of the Sir John Sulman and Wynne Prizes, the former awarded for genre painting and the latter awarded for landscapes. These two prizes are rarely covered by the media, as the Archibald is considered the most prestigious and generally is thought to have a strong artistic tradition, combined with its often celebrity-focused subject matter, which makes it more popular with the average person. It’s for this reason that barring the entirety of the 1970’s, the prize is awarded to shockingly bad paintings rather infrequently. 1986 was a stinker, 2000 was pretty bad, and 2008 and 2013 were awarded to rather dreadful artworks (both painted by Del Kathryn Barton, a woman) although not without some consternation and general bitching from conservative newspapers. The point is that the Archibald is relatively conservative when you remember that it’s an art prize with a tradition and lineage dating back only to 1921.
That’s where the Sulman and Wynne come into play. At the time of writing, these prizes award less cash than the Archibald, offering a paltry $40,000 and $50,000 in comparison to the Archibald’s $100,000. The Wynne Prize dates back all the way to 1897, and is awarded for “the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture”, but 76 out of 121 of the winning artworks are missing from the gallery’s website. The less strict entry requirements for artworks make it far more prone to subversion and degenerate experimentation, particularly in the world of sculpture, although the landscape paintings have certainly caught up in recent years.
The Sulman, on the other hand, is the newest prize of the three, and is the impetus for writing this article in the first place. Its entrants are arguably of the lowest quality (what you can find of them, at least), and it is perhaps the most confused of the three prizes. From the Art Gallery of New South Wales website, “A genre painting is normally a composition representing some aspect or aspects of everyday life, and may feature figurative, still-life, interior or figure-in-landscape themes. A subject painting, in contrast, is idealised or dramatised. Typically, a subject painting takes its theme from history, poetry, mythology or religion. In both cases, however, the style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract.” It essentially acts as a dumping ground for anything which does not fit into the categories of portraiture, landscape or sculpture, so you can probably see how it might become home to any variety of nonsensical sludge.
This minor history lesson of course is to provide context for the histrionics which lay ahead. The Sulman Prize winners have never really been any good, so it should come as no surprise that the winner of the award in 2018, ‘Kaylene TV’, is an absolutely abominable piece of work by every objective measure.
‘Kaylene TV’ is completely without merit. The artist shows an utter lack of technical knowledge. She displays a poor understanding of human anatomy, figure drawing skill, colour theory and compositional skill. Her juxtaposition of Aboriginal symbols and the “dot painting” motif (itself introduced to Aboriginals in the 1970’s by a white school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon) with symbols of White American popular culture in Dolly Parton and Cher only serves to illustrate the artist’s complete lack of respect or understanding for the rich artistic and cultural background of, not just the Archibald Prize, but all of white Australian art. The act of simply sticking these two white musicians onto an Aboriginal painting to which they clearly do not belong is very much a metaphor for this artwork being exhibited in the Art Gallery of NSW and winning the Sulman Prize. It simply does not belong there, and the artist does not even realise it.
So in the aftermath of her Sulman Prize win, what has Kaylene been up to? Well, the answer is “not much”. Her artwork ‘Seven Sistas’, which curiously features eight different paintings, is being exhibitioned at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne until Septmeber 16th. If you’ve never attended, the building is one of those abstract shrines to Moloch which resembles a level from acclaimed video game, ‘Bubsy 3D’. Alongside her work is that of contemporary Vincent Namatijira, great-grandson of acclaimed Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatijira. Vincent’s work is equally lacking in merit, amateurish portraits which have been lauded by the ABC’s Kerry Brewster as “bold” and “fresh” (read, retarded).
Pivoting from Whiskey to Namatijira is actually quite important, as Vincent himself has been the lucky recipient of media coverage and favorable responses from judges as well as art critics despite his work’s poor quality. John McDonald, former art critic for Fairfax (press F), stated on ABC News on the exhibition’s first night, “In fact, I’m surprised the judges could resist giving [the Archibald] to Vincent because if they’d given him the Archibald, that would have been a clean sweep for Indigenous artists.” Ben Quilty, a judge for the prize and winner of the Archibald in 2011, was equally glowing with praise for Namatijira’s skin colour, stating, “Vincent will win it one day, and there are a few Indigenous artists who enter who are great. It’s just a matter of time.”
"He's alright. To travel around the world, pretty brave courageous. Makes me feel brave when I do a picture of James Cook,"
Surely this tells us something. Maybe this is a reversion on my part to the talking points of limp-dicked conservatives, but I can’t help but feel that the people lauding these artists secretly treat them as a joke, and know that their artwork is comparable to the efforts of a 5th grader with a learning disability. These art prizes are used by cultural Marxists, moronic liberals and effete urbanite bugmen to thrust repugnant artworks into the faces of the public and onto the walls of our galleries, creating shrines to the ugliness of modernity, upheld by cultists of all that is visually detestable.
Maybe I'm just being irrationally angry, though. After all, these people are all pretty erudite and clearly far more intelligent and talented than I'll ever be. Just read Kaylene's thoughts on her artistic process:
"“I like to listen to rock music and Tina Turner, and I paint with really strong colours, I put in lots of the special details, and everyone likes it. I paint strong stories too, paintings about heaven and Jesus, and sometimes Mintabie (local mining town,) and paintings about my country Indulkana. Sometimes my paintings tell hard stories, but my paintings are always colourful and painting them makes me happy.”
Rock on, sista.