Bald-Faced Archies

The Archibald Prize is the NSW Art Gallery’s popular and populist, annual award for portraiture. Christopher Allen, eminent art reviewer, and long-standing critic of the over-hyped prize, has succinctly outlined our suspicions about the methodology and bona fides of this dubious affair, after the latest episode (Weekend Australian Review Dec 19-20, 2020).

Allen calls for a detailed statement of the stages of the artist’s process in making a portrait, and suggests that they would make disturbing reading in recent years and amount to confessions of dubious practices, such as meeting the subject for coffee and taking some snaps to work from.

Or more worrying perhaps, projecting a ‘high-resolution photograph on to a two metre high canvas, then paint over it, lovingly reproducing every pore, crease and pimple, as though this is where the innermost character of the sitter was lying hidden”.

‘Worse still, others would have to confess that they had a photo digitally printed on to a canvas, then coloured it with oil paints or daubed over it with fake impasto to imply a non-existent alla prima painterly energy. Thus a range of processes, from the merely lazy to the brazenly fraudulent, which the public is incapable of recognising itself, would be clearly exposed; and we would see whether even the Packing Room Prize would still be awarded to one of these confections.’  

I’m not sure how all this squares with the old debate about the use of camera obscura hundreds of years ago by masters like Vermeer to make life-like portraits, or more recent camera lucida projection techniques to help drawing. But the extent of dubious Archie portrait practices and imprimatur by the gallery seems dodgy, so maybe it’s time to make a stand.

Rise up art-lovers and philistines, now is the summer of our discontent, enough is enough, of this culture of ‘cheating’, of fake art. Let’s launch a catchy battle cry, like #baldfacedarchies, and get out there on the online street to protest.

“Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.” – Salvador Dali

(Copyright prevents publishing some egregious Archie examples of ‘fake art’ without permission, which may be difficult to obtain, so check it out yourself).

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