Stories behind queer portraits among 2019 Archibald Prize finalists

Benjamin Law Faustina Agolley-portraits Archibald Prize 2019
Photo: Art Gallery of NSW

Queensland-born author Benjamin Law and TV presenter Faustina Agolley are among the well-known Australians depicted in portraits chosen as finalists in this year’s Archibald Prize.

The Archibald Prize is the country’s oldest and most popular art prize and is awarded each year to a portrait “preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.”

Fifty-one finalists have been selected – 28 featuring male subjects and 23 females – and were chosen from 919 entries.

Brisbane artist Keith Burt has made it through to the finals for a second time with his portrait of author and The Family Law creator Benjamin Law.

“I’ve followed Benjamin Law’s career ever since he worked in a bookshop in West End, Brisbane many years ago,” Burt said.

“I was thrilled when he agreed to sit for me at the end of 2018. He’s articulate, experienced, opinionated and endlessly entertaining.

“As I painted Benjamin’s face it was revealed as happy and sad, a reflection of someone who has confronted discrimination and injustice with a positively wicked sense of humour.”

Kim Leutwyler’s subject is Faustina Agolley, the openly queer Ghanaian-Chinese actor, presenter and writer.

Leutwyler said she wants the portrait to raise the profile of women of colour in the arts.

“I was instantly drawn to Faustina because of the strength of her convictions and her appetite for knowledge and self-development,” Leutwyler said.

“She’s overcome depression and anxiety stemming from trauma and homophobia to rebuild her life through her creative pursuits.

“In historical art, women of colour are often erased or, when seen, reduced to tropes as opposed to the individuals they are/were.

“Queer women have largely been left out altogether. Representation of queer women of colour on the walls of our cultural institutions matters.”

“In this portrait of Faustina, I explore the boundaries between realism and abstraction to highlight the layers and complexity of identity.”

On Thursday it was announced this year’s Packer’s Prize, an award decided by the head packer who supervises the unloading of Archibald Prize entries, went to Western Australian artist Tessa Mackay who painted actor David Wenham at a cafe.

The Archibald Prize winners will be announced on May 10. All of the Archibald Prize finalists can be viewed on the Art Gallery of New South Wales website.

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