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  • Jul 28, 2017

Australian Artist Mitch Cairns Wins 2017 Archibald Prize

The 33-year-old Australian artist Mitch Cairns has won the AUD 100,000 (USD 79,760) Archibald Prize.

Cairns attended the announcement at Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) on July 28 along with his artist partner Agatha Gothe-Snape, who is the subject in Cairns’s winning work and whose name is also the painting's title. Gothe-Snape is a significant artist in her own right, and has recently been included in last year’s Biennale of Sydney and the recent exhibition “The National: New Australian Art.” Cairn’s portrait—with its bright, hard-edge style, its economical use of palette and line, and lack of perspective—pays homage to Matisse’s paintings from the 1930s and ’40s. The artist depicted Gothe-Snape in their domestic setting. Cairns told ArtAsiaPacific that there were no actual portrait sittings per se, and that the painting was the result of an ongoing series of drawings. “Agatha and I share everything in our lives—our two-year old son, our work as artists and our day-to-day lives.” This is the fourth time that Cairns has been an Archibald Prize finalist.

The AGNSW also announced the winners of the annual Wynne Prize for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery or figurative sculpture, as well as the Sulman Prize for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural in oil, acrylic, watercolor or mixed media. 

Indigenous artist Betty Kuntiwa Pumani took home the AUD 50,000 (USD 39,940) Wynne Prize with a bold acrylic on linen painting Antara (2014), which depicts her mother’s homeland. Joan Ross won the AUD 40,000 (USD 32,000) Sulman Prize for Oh History, You Lied to Me (2017), a mixed-media on paper work that continues her interrogation of Australian colonization and that was judged by indigenous Australian artist Tony Albert.

Ross told AAP that she was glad to see a high number of indigenous artists included as finalists—one quarter of 44—in this year’s Wynne Prize: “I just feel like it is a statement and a huge acknowledgement of indigenous culture, and a long time coming.”

Speaking briefly at the announcement, AGNSW director Michael Brand called the Archibald Prize, now in its 96th year, “a portrait of the changing face of Australia, and an unmatched visual account of our time.” Brand has recently persuaded the New South Wales state government to invest AUD 244 million (USD 195 million) in the gallery’s Sydney Modern project, which will double the institution’s exhibition space. The entrance foyer of the new extension will display indigenous Australian art, which had a strong presence among the three prizes’ finalist works.

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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