• Helen Ferguson

Trying Something New!

Trying Something New - The Archibald Prize 2020 Exhibition

New year, New you!

How many times have you read or heard that little cliché in the last week?

I tend to tune that stuff out these days.


I care far less about New Year's Resolutions than I did in my 20’s and 30’s.

I used to set myself targets for weight loss, when, in hindsight, I wasn’t overweight.

I would designate fitness goals, which just cost me money that I didn’t have and placed me in environments that I didn’t enjoy.

In my 40’s I subconsciously attempted to keep up with the dumb idea of 40 being the new 30, and found myself completely exhausted, and absolutely not 30!

So pointless. Time that could have been spent on sleep, quite frankly.

So these days, I’m more tolerant towards myself.

Instead of greeting an incoming year with half baked plans to transform myself into something different, or wind the clock back to where I’ve already been; these days I try to build on what I have, strengthen what I’ve already achieved, or gently step into a new territory that has been tantalizing me for a while.

It’s not an ‘all or nothing, go hard or go home’ approach, it’s an amicable stroll with myself to somewhere that I think I might enjoy. If I find out it’s not for me, I’m going to wander off and do something else.

Those of you who read the ‘My Little List Of Joy - 2020’ post last week

My Little List of Joy - 2020 (hermiddleage.com.au)

will remember that I visited the Van Gough Alive exhibition, and though I have no ‘working knowledge of the Art World’, I found it a very moving and enjoyable experience.

Based on that teeny triumph I decided to attend more exhibitions in 2021 and see where that road led.

I migrated to Australia almost 19 years ago, and became hazily aware of the annual Archibald Prize very early on, through the mainstream media. It always seemed to be reported with affection, even in the years when the winning work was deemed ‘controversial’

Home :: Art Gallery NSW

I had a vague knowledge that the exhibition was held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, that the Archibald was a prize for portrait painting, and every year, after the judges had made their decision, the Gallery Staff then held their own panel and awarded

‘The Packing Room Prize’, which also seemed to be very warmly regarded.

I was completely ignorant to the fact that there were 2 other official prizes that were awarded;

Wynne Prize: for landscape painting or figurative sculpture


Sulman Prize: for subject, genre or mural painting

I only became conscious of the latter when I jumped on-line to book my tickets, and then actually understood that they were specialist categories when I saw the exhibition, hanging in place.

So, coming from such a naïve but willing starting point, I spent an exceedingly happy morning this week, roaming around the bright white galleries, flexing my culture muscles.

As a result I would enthusiastically recommend that you see the exhibition, if you can...though it does close this weekend, sorry, bit of a last minute dash on my part….or plan to go next year. I think I shall.

(or, just try something new!)


I think I’ve credibly established that I’m no art brain, but I did have some surprisingly strong reactions to a number of the pieces. I’m not interested in being negative, so the work that I didn’t understand will be left alone by me, to be enjoyed by people who did love them.

So here is my pick: 2 pieces from each category that stirred something in my heart and gave me the impetus to write about them.

The Archibald Prize

I’m Here - by Dee Smart


A self portrait in response to her diagnosis of Cancer, and a record of who she saw in her mirror during her treatment.

This piece seemed gentle at first; predominantly white, hung on a white wall, the detail crept into focus. Once I was standing quietly in front of it I could appreciate the work involved.

The slog of enduring the necessary treatment, and the effort of presenting herself to the world in such a crystal clear way.

It is a beautiful portrait, the eyes are full to the brim with so much feeling.

L-FRESH The LION - by Claus Stangl


This portrait of the Hip-Hop musician grabbed by attention the second I saw it.

The colours were so strong, and his profile so beautiful that I was pulled in.

My artistically gifted Niece has made me aware of just how difficult it is to paint hair convincingly, so this superior beard impressed me no end.

The Wynne Prize

Mollitium 2 - by Julianne Ross Allcorn


This exquisite depiction of the Australian bush and wildlife, drawn and painted onto 21 Birch wood panels was an absolute showstopper for me.

The overwhelming amount of detail was quite astonishing, and I would love to revisit it multiple times to really let it sink in. The devastation of bushfire and the miracle of regrowth prodded at recent emotions.

Ngalunggirr miinggi (healing spirit) - by Otis Hope Carey


My absolute personal favourite of the entire experience.

This piece is outside of my understanding and any frame of reference that I might have, but I fell in love with it.

It appears very simple at first glance but the longer I stood in front of it, the more felt.

I don’t know why I reacted this way, but to me, it was incredibly gentle.

If I could see it again on different days and in different frames of mind, I’d be very interested to see how it affected me...(Which, I now realise, is why people buy art when they can)

The Sulman Prize

Hoopla - by Joanna Braithwaite


The quirky, extravagantly colourful energy of this work was probably what I was expecting from a famous art competition. This was fun and exciting to look at, skillfully made, and if you wanted to introduce kids or newbies to the world of art, there is so much in this piece to grab onto.

It reminded me of all the glorious surprises you get as a child when you first discover theatre or really amazing illustrated books.

The Divine - by Marikit Santiago


This was clearly a very beautiful and well thought out creation.

I loved that the artist credits her children as her collaborators, and points to their scribbles and writing in pen and paint on the finished painting. There is such a clear difference between artists and me. She welcomes their marks as part of the art, I would have been quite upset!

So for trying something new, I can count this as a success.

For exposing myself to art in a considered and deliberate way, again, big tick!

I enjoyed putting myself into that environment, one that always felt as though it belonged to other people, the knowledgeable people. I’d been to exhibitions and galleries in the past and felt that I needed to be learning something. In my recent experiences I’ve been happy to find myself ‘feeling’ something.

I’m glad to be chipping away at that.

I suspect this will become a pastime that develops over the years.

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