famous faces

THE Maitland Regional Art Gallery is hosting its first Archibald Prize exhibition, just in time to promote the 2010 competition.

The 2009 works have been on tour for almost a year, providing much of NSW with the chance to share in what is arguably the nation's most popular art event. No other regional gallery can have exhibited these imposing portraits as spaciously as Maitland now can.

We are more or less in the land of giants, with faces two metres high competing for our slightly intimidated attention. Many are as interesting for the handling of paint as for their well-known sitters.

Are there more self-portraits than usual? David Griggs shows himself as terrorist; Robert Hannaford as heroic painter. Michael Zavros reduces himself to dark glasses, shoes and aftershave.

Are there more women? Dame Elisabeth Murdoch by Hong Fu and Margaret Whitlam by Nicholas Harding are accompanied by Gay Bilson by Leeanne Crisp, Marcia Langton by Sam Leach and indigenous artist Nancy Kunoth Petyarr by Jan Williamson. Nell, the media personality and artist born in Maitland, features twice, by senior painter Richard Larter and also by Abbey McCulloch.

There is also more role playing than I remember from the past. Greta Scacchi is shown by Mark Thompson as a glacial Elizabeth I. Megan Seres shows Brendan Cowell as Hamlet. Of course this is essential viewing, if only to see the brooding winning work, singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu painted by Guy Maestri in the dramatic Chiaroscuro of Rembrant. 

Jill Stowell, The Herald, Newcastle, March 20 2010, p.11