Stencil artist tries hand at Archibald Prize

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A prominent Australian street artist has teamed up with a controversial priest to try his hand at the Archibald prize for portraiture.

Update: E.L.K's portrait of Father Bob was named in the list of finalists on March the 15th.

A street artist has teamed up with prominent priest Father Bob Maguire for a historic tilt at the Archibald Prize.

E.L.K's stencilled portrait of 'Father Bob' comes as the medium gains increasing recognition in the world of high art.

It's a combination that's helped change the face of the Art Gallery of NSW's prominent portraiture prize - it's the first time a fully stencilled work has been among the Archibald finalists.

E.L.K - or Luke Cornish to his parents – said he entered the Archibald with Fr Maguire as a subject because it “just felt right”.

"He reminds me a lot of my grandpa so it just seemed fitting to paint a portrait of him. I guess it was just the next logical step as an artist; to start entering prizes.”

Fr Maguire says he's pleased with how things have gone. “I'm not the greatest critic in the world of art,” he said. “But I can recognise this...because it's obviously me, Mr Grumpy.”

It's not the first time an Archibald entrant has deviated from more traditional mediums.

In 2004 Craig Ruddy's portrait of actor David Gulpilil, Two Worlds, caused a storm when it was challenged for being a drawing (charcoal) and not a painting.

Craig Ruddy's 'David Gulpilil: Two Worlds' (AGNSW)

For the team selecting the work to hang at the Art Gallery of NSW, the portrait is part of a much broader trend.

“One of the most marked changes has occurred over the last decade where we've moved into a much stronger contemporary experimental representation,” Wayne Tunicliffe, chief curator of Australian Art told SBS.

“I think the Archibald has opened up to younger styles, to fresher styles, and it's moved away from sort of academic portraiture to being much more open about the sorts of ways artists can represent people and their work," he said.

The making of the stencil was captured in Jacob Oberman's Tropfest entry 'Me-We'

But as modern stencil art moves from the streets to the galleries, entering the popular consciousness through crossover artists such as England's Banksy, proponents of what has largely been viewed as an illegal art form are keen to stress its long history.

“The earliest examples we have are back (around) 10,000 BC, when humans would chew pigment and spray it on their hands - and we have examples of that in Australia with our indigenous art”, Jacinta Walpole says.

Walpole runs the Australian Stencil Art Prize - one of the first prizes of its kind in the world.

Seen through her eyes, the entry of stencils into 'higher' art prizes is a natural development.

“Recognised artists like Matisse, Miro, Picasso even,..they experimented with stencil art...then in the 80s we had Blek Le Rat in Paris, and he took stencil art to the streets after seeing graffiti in New York.”


Blek Le Rat's Pre-Banksy stencil work. (Wikimedia Commons)


As for Father Bob, he's comfortable with the medium.

“We (Christians) used to do a bit of that and we used to put stencils on the ground; when the coppers were chasing us around Rome in the first 400 years, we used to leave signs on the footpaths. Isn't that interesting?”



Guy Maestri: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (AGNSW)

Archibald winner Guy Maestri, whose portrait in oils of Arnhem Land singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu took the prize in 2009, said the competition could even be pushed “a little bit further”.

“It's nice that there are works that are coming in to this show that are challenging people's preconceptions of how to make a portrait or what is a portrait, so anything outside the square is a positive thing to have.”

The portraits chosen for the gallery's walls will be announced on Thursday, March 15, with the overall winner named on March 30.

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