Winning the Archibald Prize is not only a monument to artist Blak Douglas, he believes it is also a huge moment in history for Indigenous and LGBTQIA Australians.
The Sydney-based painter of Dhungatti heritage won the prestigious art prize on Friday for his portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens during the flooding in Lismore.
He is the first NSW Koori to win the $100,000 prize, in a competition that until recently was primarily won for images of white male faces.
“We knocked this out of the park with this portrait,” he tells AAP.
“Karla is a woman, a woman of color and a same-sex person, so it’s just this trilogy that in my wildest dreams I never expected to hang on my wall as a winner.”
The portrait, titled Moby Dickens, was unanimously selected as the winner by Art Gallery of NSW Trustees.
The victory symbolizes a cultural shift towards greater inclusion and diversity in the commercial art world, Douglas believes.
“I didn’t expect this to happen so quickly and so it’s a huge legacy, not only on behalf of this institution, but also for others who want to change the landscape,” he said.
Mrs. Dickens’ heroic efforts during the floods in her hometown of Lismore inspired the portrait.
“Coincidentally, I was there in Lismore immediately after the first deluge in January and saw the shock and horror on people’s faces,” he said.
She had reached a pivotal point in her own art career when the flood disaster struck.
“While she should normally have been excited about where her career was headed, she hosted three families in Lismore as part of her own rescue mission,” he said.
Mr. Douglas is a five-time Archibald finalist and was also a 2009 Wynne Prize finalist.
He was one of 52 finalists whose work included portraits of the likes of Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman and former politician and Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett.
A self-portrait of last year’s winner Peter Wegner, a seven-time Melbourne finalist, was also in the running.
The judges highly praised Jude Rae for her portrayal of Dr. Saul Griffith.
The $40,000 Sulman Prize for the best subject or genre painting was awarded this year to Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro for their work titled Raiko and Shuten-doji.
The $50,000 Wynne Prize for Australian Landscape Paintings was awarded to Nicholas Harding for Eora.
There were over 1900 entries across the three awards, including a record number of Aboriginal artists. There was also a record number of Aboriginal finalists in the three competitions.
Sydney artist Claus Stangl, who created a 3D portrait of Kiwi film director Taika Waititi, won the $3,000 Packing Room Prize, a category awarded by gallery workers who receive, unpack and hang the portraits.
The exhibition of finalists opens on Saturday and runs until August 28.
Australian Associated Press