I went to the Archibald when in Sydney yesterday. I didn’t think much of the winner – though I don’t think I really ‘got’ it. But I was amazed at how many good portraits there were – I’d say at least ten really good ones. I looked around and thought – “well maybe that’s what a generation of the Archibald has done, turn us into great portraitists – being great landscape painters already”.
But the painting on the
left right was in a class of it’s own. It left me dumbfounded. That’s of course subject to the now obligatory disclaimer, the health warning that your correspondent does suffer from what could have been referred to until the 1950s without any misunderstanding as ‘premature ejaculation’ – which is to say for the benefit of our younger readers, overly hasty enthusiasm.
In any event, finally finding the image on this website (scroll through to find it), I remain dumbfounded.
I guess it’s a simple idea – the kind you might see in an op ed illustration. And its execution seems very good to me but I admit that it’s no Vermeer. (The girl behind the window isn’t quite brought off I don’t think).
But I think it is just a fantastic thing to look and wonder at. How staged and at the same time how casual. What a simple image to reflect on all those things about our lives and our identities that are so hard to put our finger on. The two girls are so different, their ways of relating to the world (the painter) and no doubt each other are so different. One is seen through a glass. But it looks like we can ‘see’ her or what she’s like more clearly. She seems more straightforward, more gregarious, more easily part of our world. More transparent.
The girl in the foreground, the girl we can see so much better seems much harder to make out, more self absorbed, a world unto herself. These girls love each other. At the same time, each will spend time in front of the mirror thinking that the other is prettier than her, more popular than her, smarter than her, doesn’t say as many inappropriate and embarrassing things . . . or whatever (I’m guessing). They are caught in the hall of mirrors (well windows) that is human identity and we are looking on.
And the composition, the patterns and shapes and shadows and spaces – well I think they’re lovely.