Veteran artist Tim Storrier has been named winner of the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize for his painting The Lunar Savant of his friend and fellow artist McLean Edwards, also a finalist in this year’s competition.
Standing almost two metres tall, the portrait is one of the largest in the competition and certainly one of the most beautiful and arresting, depicting a disheveled-looking Edwards in a stark, mystical night landscape with a cigarette dangling loosely from one hand, a bemused look on his ruddy face and one shoe noticeably absent.
In announcing Storrier as the winner, judge Daniel Thomas described the portrait as one that “went outside his personal mythology and produced an affectionate, teasing, ‘friendship painting’ of a wild fellow artist”.
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Storrier refused to be drawn on the intent behind his acrylic on linen portrait, saying: “I don’t answer those questions at all,” before adding, “I suppose, as a loose remark, one could suggest the lack of a shoe could be a metaphor for some kind of sensitivity.”
This year’s competition attracted a record 1130 portraits, with 200 semi-finalists and a final 30 selected and hung by Thomas, emeritus director of the Art Gallery of South Australia; and Wendy Sharpe, a respected and diverse artist who has been a finalist in the Doug Moran competition and who won the Archibald in 1996 with a self portrait.
“One of the things that is exciting about this exhibition is it’s got such a huge range, there’s not a house style,” Sharpe says. “From very established senior artists through to people who are just starting out and very young … [paintings] that are very academic and precise right through to something much more experimental or quirky.”
It’s displayed in Juniper Hall, a former gin distillery in Paddington and the suburb’s oldest building (1824). Portraits of celebrities include actor Isla Fisher, designer Alex Perry, cabaret performer Paul Capsis and actor Jack Charles. There are portraits by celebrated artists Robert Hannaford, Lewis Miller, Jiawei Shen and Anh Do (whose portrait of Charles recently won the People’s Choice award at the Archibald Prize).
There are deeply personal pieces, including Sara Bell’s Respite of her fitfully sleeping son, a cap with the words “suicidal tendencies” tossed next to him as a moving statement about teenage depression. Six amusing portraits by Celeste Chandler, Heroic Painting, depicting her face in the guise of heroic male archetypes, is a comment on the disadvantage female artists continue to face in Australia today.
Victorian artist Dagmar Cyrulla’s self portrait I am Woman was highly commended, depicting the artist sitting semi-naked on a chair and staring straight out at the viewer, her gaze frank and uncompromising.
For 68-year-old Storrier, the lucrative prize money is seemingly of no consequence. “I am a traditional old white male with a wife, which means essentially I don’t get to look at the money at all. I might get some chewing gum out of it,” he insists.
He was far more forthcoming in his thoughts on the Archibald Prize and the trustees of the AGNSW, however. “My picture really should have been called ‘Lazarus’ because the judges of the AGNSW in their wisdom threw him out. It did not make the cut.”
A former Archibald Prize winner himself (2012 for his faceless self-portrait), Storrier has made no secret of his disdain for the Archibald competition as it stands, recently joining fellow Archibald winner and former AGNSW trustee John Olsen in publicly criticising the selection of this year’s winning portrait by Mitch Cairns as bland.
His final comment on his Doug Moran win was equally pointed: “It’s just amazing how a limping dog can end up winning a race, isn’t it?”
A free exhibition, the Doug Moran Portrait Prize is on display at Juniper Hall, Paddington, until December 17.