The Archibald Prize, Australia's most prestigious art competition, has continued its long tradition of controversy. It is awarded for a portrait ‘preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia’.
Both artist, Nigel Milsom, and subject, Charles Waterstreet, have a colourful history in the law. They met and became friends when Milsom was convicted and gaoled for a 2012 armed robbery. Waterstreet was his lawyer. He is best known as co-creator of the television series Rake, whose main character Cleaver Greene is loosely based on his life and career. His proud re-tweet made the connection:
— missdlight keri (@missdlight) July 17, 2015
In fact, at times it seemed like Charles had won the award:
— lily mayers (@lilymayers) July 17, 2015
Not all art lovers appreciated the many media headlines that focused on Milsom's criminal record:
So sad the media is focussing on this years #archibald2015 winner in a negative light. He did his time, now let's celebrate his prize.
— Lila A (@lila_afiouni) July 17, 2015
— Alasdair Macintyre (@aecap) July 17, 2015
But others on Twitter had no qualms about raising his criminal past:
— James Powditch (@james_powditch) July 17, 2015
There were the inevitable online art critics. It is a recurring theme of the Archibald that the winner is a poor choice:
— Tim Meade (@PompeyPom) July 17, 2015
This tweet referenced the famous winning entry by William Dobell in 1943, which faced an unsuccessful legal challenge that argued it was a caricature not a portrait.
Archibald winner is just a Francis Bacon , Bill Dobell rip off … Once again , art loses …
— george Barnes (@georgebarnes311) July 17, 2015
Raichel laid out the similarities for all to see:
— Raichel (@DanteInExile) July 17, 2015
Joanna Mendelssohn was very positive at The Conversation arguing that it is “our ‘most fun’ festival of faces”. She explained:
First, the Archibald is – in essence – not an art prize but a celebration of the personalities who define Australia, and especially Sydney. Waterstreet, the flamboyant inspiration for the ABC television series Rake, has to be a front runner on those grounds alone.
In addition, Milsom was the winner of the 2013 Moran Prize – and a convicted criminal – all of which makes good copy. The Archibald is, above all things, about media coverage.
A thread running through much of the discussion of Australian literary and art prizes is the lack of gender balance. This has been a contentious point with the Archibald, regarding both artists and their subjects. There were many tweets linking to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article Archibald Prize 2015: It takes balls to be a winner:
— Gi Ma (@gima2327) July 17, 2015
Finally, Peter Pidgeon shared a popular video post by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which contains a famous relation of his:
Wep's 3 wins: 1958, 1961 & 1968; images #37, #40 & #46 – The changing face of the Archibald: 1921-2015… http://t.co/r2D7T3IvLq
— Peter Pidgeon (@Pidgeoncoop) July 18, 2015
It gives a chance to judge the worthiness of the winners for yourself.