Sydney artist Tony Costa has taken it out the 2019 Archibald Prize with his portrait of Lindy Lee, an Australian contemporary artist and Zen Buddhist. The oil painting depicts her in a meditative pose and is the first portrait in the Archibald's 98-year history to feature an Asian-Australian sitter.

Costa has been an Archibald finalist previously, in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He’s also had works in the Wynne Prize, Sulman Prize and Dobell Prize for Drawing. In 2014 he won the Paddington Art Prize for landscape painting.

Lindy Lee uses her work to explore her Chinese roots and Buddhist faith. She’s considered one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists and was an Archibald finalist in 2002, and subject in 2006 and 2012.

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Costa says he was inspired to paint Lee after hearing an interview with her at the Art Gallery of NSW.
“I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice,’ Costa said in a statement. “In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. The challenge for me was to capture the energy of Lindy – the emotional over and above the physical,” Costa added.

The Art Gallery of NSW's director, Michael Brand, said in a statement that the work was chosen for its "close and sympathetic observation".

"Its strong, expressive painterliness and minimal palette project a sense of calm and repose, reflective of Lindy Lee’s Zen Buddhist practice,” he said.

This came on the back of the announcement of the Packing Room Prize, which is awarded by the team that unwraps and hangs the Archibald Prize. It was won by Tessa MacKay for her painting of actor David Wenham (Lord of the Rings, 300, Lion).

Costa has beaten 50 other Archibald finalists, including Paul Ryan, Anh Do, Tsering Hannaford and Blak Douglas for the $100,000 prize. Other portraits were of well-known Australians including writer and actor Nakkiah Lui; Paralympian Dylan Alcott; media personalities Benjamin Law, Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb; and Archibald-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton. The Archibald has been awarded annually since 1921 to the best depiction by an Australian resident of a person of note from the worlds of art, letters, science and politics.

The Archibald Prize People’s Choice Award for 2019 was awarded to David Darcy with his depiction of Indigenous elder Daisy Tjuparntarri Ward. Darcy was also a finalist in last year’s Archibald, and only picked up full-time painting two-and-a-half years ago.

Ward is a respected elder of the Warakurna community and Ngaanyatjarra people of Western Australia, and a cultural and community liaison officer for regional schools, a director on the NPY Women’s Council, a translator, artist, storyteller, and an advocate against domestic violence.

Darcy and Ward became friends last year when she walked into his studio looking for art supplies. Darcy lives in the small township of Murrurundi in rural New South Wales.

The striking portrait features Ward with a traditional paintwork on her chest, taken from women’s songs she is permitted to perform. Her face and torso are covered in red oxide, which is used in place of traditional red ochre. Darcy received $3500 for the prize.

Also showing are the Wynne prize, which continued a four-year trend in acknowledging the extraordinary art coming out of the APY lands in remote South Australia, with Indigenous artist Sylvia Ken earning the $50,000 award for her painting, Seven Sisters. There's also the $40,000 Sulman prize, which was awarded to McLean Edwards for his work The first girl that knocked on his door.

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes are on display at the Art Gallery of NSW until September 8 then will travel around NSW until August 2020.

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on May 10. Some details have changed.