The most talked-about and celebrated Australian prize for portraiture is back.  From this evening at the Art Gallery of New South Wales the $100,000 Archibald Prize, and the associated Wynne and Sulman Prizes, will take the national limelight.

Now almost 100 years old, the Archibald has fascinated generations of audiences, stimulated discussion about the power of art and what it means to be human.  Since its inception in 1921 the prize has dictated that the highest award will go to “the best portrait, preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics, painted by an artist resident in Australia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the trustees for sending in the pictures." 

Artists of course are free to interpret their chosen subject and their subject’s struggles, hopes, achievements, and downfalls in unexpected and revealing ways.

The subject of the 2016 winning portrait Charles Waterstreet, well-known Sydney barrister, social activist and filmmaker, painted by UNSW Art & Design graduate, Nigel Milsom, is portrayed as part-man, part-mythical creature representative of a man who has grappled with unnatural disasters in his own life and those of others.  Guy Maestri’s winning portrait in 2009 of legendary Aboriginal musician, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, poignantly portrays a man with powerfully moving talent, compelling cultural stories to tell and blind since birth seemingly unaffected by the viewer’s attention.  And of course, who can forget the extraordinary extravagance of colour and flesh in UNSW Art & Design graduate, Wendy Sharpe’s winning 1996 self-portrait?   

Over the years, Archibald, Wynne, and Sulman finalists represent an increasingly diverse representation of contemporary Australian society.  More artists and /or subjects are women and more are from backgrounds other than the Anglo-Saxon dominant culture.

UNSW Art & Design graduates who have exhibited in these three major national prizes over the years include: Nigel Milson (2015 Archibald winner), Fiona Lowry (2014 Archibald winner), Del Karthyn Barton (2008, 2013 Archibald winner), Adam Cullen (2000 Archibald winner),  Wendy Sharpe (1996 Archibald winner), Abdul Abdullah, Clara Adolphs, Danelle Bergstrom, Jason Phu, David Griggs, Alan Jones, Marikit Santiago, Imants Tillers, Tony Costa, Shaun Galdwell, Tim Gregory, Tim Maguire, James Powditch, and Mariola Smarzak, just to name a few.

The 2017 Archibald is expected to host record level audiences.  2017 Archibald finalists include:  Tony Albert (UNSW Art & Design Bowen Bungaree Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Residency Recipient), Jessica Ashton (UNSW Art & Design), Kate Beynon, Andrew Bonneau, Boys of Sydney Grammar Edgecliff Preparatory School, Keith Burt, Mitch Cairns, Jon Campbell, Jun Chen, Yvette Coppersmith, Tony Costa (UNSW Art & Design), Lucy Culliton, Jonathan Dalton, Anh Do, Marc Etherington, Prudence Flint, Ashley Frost, Andrew Lloyd Greensmith, David Griggs (UNSW Art & Design), Robert Hannaford, Tsering Hannaford, Nicholas Harding, Sophia Hewson, Tjungkara Ken, Julius Killerby, Kim Leutwyler, Richard Lewer, William H Luke, Robert Malherbe, Phil Meatchem, Vincent Namatjira, Paul Newton, Jordan Richardson, Dee Smart, Peter Smeeth, Gerard Smith, Loribelle Spirovski (UNSW Art & Design)Venessa Stockard (UNSW Art & Design), Noel Thurgate, Natasha Walsh, what, Marcus Wills, and Madeleine Winch.

2017 Wynne Prize finalists include:  Teresa Baker, Wawiriya Burton, Lucy Culliton, James Drinkwater, Neil Evans, Guan Wei, Nicholas Harding, Beryl Jimmy, Alan Jones (UNSW Art & Design), Ray Ken, Juz Kitson, Dinesh Kumar, Manyitjanu Lennon, Fiona Lowry (UNSW Art & Design), William Mackinnon, Guy Maestri, Noel McKenna (UNSW Art & Design), Ben Milne, Rachel Milne, Mona Mitakki / Naomi Kantjuriny, Barbara Mbitjana, John Murray, Yukultji Napangati, Angus Nivison (UNSW Art & Design), Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Ngupulya Pumani, Rowan Robertson, Alexandra Standen (UNSW Art & Design), Tim Storrier, Robyn Sweaney, Tony Tavares, Paul Trefry, John R Walker, Wukun Wanambi, Mumu Mike Williams / Willy Muntjantji Marin, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Philip Wolfhagen, Joshua Yeldham, Chee Yong, Yaritji Young, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, and Salvatore Zofrea.

2017 Sulman Prize finalists include: Abdul Abdullah (UNSW Art & Design), Karen Black, Jon Cattapan, Michelle Cawthorne (UNSW Art & Design), Marc Etherington, David Frank, Gregory Hodge, Kim Leutwyler, Robert Malherbe / Philjames, Glenn Morgan, Michael Peck, Jason Phu (UNSW Art & Design)Tom Polo (UNSW Art & Design), Monica Rohan, Joan Ross (UNSW Art & Design), Nicola Smith, Nick Swann (UNSW Art & Design), Angela Tiatia (UNSW Art & Design), and Caroline Zilinsky (UNSW Art & Design).

For more information Art Gallery of New South Wales.