A portrait of Russell Drysdale was entered by an unknown artist in the Archibald Prize about 50 years ago. The artist was painted as a ragged, snarling head emerging from a landscape. Drysdale’s gallery trustees loved it, but it never got hung. The Archibald Prize, in their collective opinion, was a serious competition. The subject of the Archibald Prize should never be made fun of, not even with affection.

What a difference a generation makes. The prize is still taken seriously by the current trustees, but it’s not just an exhibition. The award is now a snapshot of Australia every year. The award shows the personalities that are admired by both the artists who paint and the trustees, who choose the few lucky ones to be displayed.

The exhibition this year is a colorful display of many styles and topics. The new orthodoxy states that there is none. The Wynne Prize, which is awarded for the best landscape painting or sculpture, as well as the Sulman Prize, given for the best mural project, genre painting, or subject painting, demonstrates a similar inclusiveness. However, these works are often overlooked during the annual festival.

The trifecta

Kaylene Whiskey’s cooking of my famous Indulkana is perhaps the best work to represent 2023’s Archibald. It’s a joyful celebration of raw materials, pop culture, and Aboriginal heritage. The work is hung in an obvious position opposite the podium, where the final judgment will be announced.

Kaylene Whiskey is a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2023. She has created a painting entitled Cooking my Famous Indulkana Soup, which is an acrylic on linen. Jenni Carter, Art Gallery of New South Wales, took the image.

Whiskey also exhibits Come See Kaylene at the Sulman Prize. This is a reworked Northern Territory Tourism Poster from the days of TAA flying “the friendly manner.” Some of her friends, Wonder Woman and Dolly Parton, have visited her.

Sulman Prize finalist 2023, Kaylene whiskey. See Kaylene. Acrylic on the found poster. 96 x59 cm. (c) The artist. Image (c) Art Gallery of New South Wales. Jenni Carter.

Jason Phu managed to pull off the trifecta in 2018, with his entries hanging at all three competitions. His Archibald Portrait of William Yang, Cameras are the Best, Cameras are the Worst, suggests Yang’s trademark low-key inscrutability.

Jason Phu is a finalist for the 2023 Archibald Prize. His work, Cameras are the Best; Cameras are the Worst, is acrylic on canvas and measures 153 x 137 cm. Image (c) Art Gallery of New South Wales. Jenni Carter.

Phu has painted three paintings in which thin paint is applied to the surface. This gives the impression that we are looking at the images through wet glasses.

It is very disturbing to read Wynne’s entry EVERYTHING STINK UNDER A STINKING HOT SUN, and EVERYTHING GROWS UNDER A SEXY, SEXY, SUMMER SUN based on an incident that occurred when he worked as a “dish-pig” at a tourist restaurant on The Rocks.