Sydney artist Tony Costa has won the 2019 Archibald Prize for his portrait of artist Lindy Lee.
The winner of Australia’s oldest and best-known prize for portraiture was announced at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) this afternoon.
Costa was a finalist in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but this year he collected the $100,000.
His subject, Lindy Lee, is a leading contemporary artist and practicing Buddhist.
“I listened to an interview Lindy gave at the AGNSW and found myself agreeing with many of her ideas. I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice,” Costa said.
“I approach each painting with an empty head, beginning every portrait with charcoal drawings as I collect sensations and information.
“The challenge for me is to trap the energy of my sitter — the emotional feeling over and above the physical reality.
“In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. Ultimately the invention and the unity of the work is what matters most.”
Only two men in ties
This year’s Archibald Prize exhibition is distinctive in its diversity.
Figures of authority have been almost wholly overlooked, images of women outnumber men, there are no politicians or wealthy philanthropists on display and two artists chose to portray themselves in the last blush of pregnancy, with naked, bulging bellies.
The exhibition includes just two men in ties, artist Samuel Condon’s modest self-portrait and Yundimurra professor Michael McDaniel, whose blue suit is draped in animal skins.
McDaniel is one of six Indigenous Australians, his image hangs alongside those of playwright Nakkiah Lui and recently retired Rabbitohs player Greg Inglis.
Among the 51 finalists there are nine pictures of Australians of Asian descent. Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Dylan Alcott is powerfully portrayed in his wheelchair by the artist Kirpy.
ABC personalities are also well represented this year: besides Lui (ABC’s Black Comedy and Kiki and Kitty), TV hosts and journalists (and best friends) Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales have portraits in this year’s exhibition, as well as Benjamin Law and Alcott.
Politicians, suits and “old men in armchairs” are, on the other hand, notably absent this year.
Male artists still outnumber women but the gap is closing.
There are 23 female finalists to 28 males, whereas just a decade ago men outnumbered women three to one.
Last year, the selfie ruled. There was a record 20 self-portraits and 14 painters chose to depict another artist, but this year the trend has been reversed with portraits of 17 artists hanging in the final exhibition and 11 self-portraits.
Record number of entries in 2019
The Archibald Prize is now in its 98th year, having been held annually since 1921.
There were 919 entries this year, culled into the final exhibition by the Art Gallery of NSW Board of Trustees, led by chairman and banker, David Gonski, deputy Gretel Packer and including artists Ben Quilty and Khadim Ali.
The winning artist receives $100,000, from a total pool of $200,000 shared with the winners of the consecutively held Wynne sculpture and landscape prize, and the curated Sulman art prize.
There is nothing like the sum of these prizes anywhere else in Australia. From an open call-out, AGNSW staff sort more than 2,000 entries into a cogent exhibition of just more than 100 works.