Saturday, April 16, 2011

Margaret Olley leaves her hat on for Ben Quilty's win By Matthew Westwood

 Archibald Prize winner Ben Quilty has defended his use of a photographic reference for his painting of Margaret Olley, and issued a challenge: "I'm willing to give anyone a draw-off to show that I can draw."


 Quilty, who has won $50,000, was responding to criticism that his painting appeared to be based on a photograph.
 The rules require portraits entered for the Archibald to be "painted from life", and the entry form has a declaration the subject sat for the artist at least once.
 "There's an accusation that I used photographs," Quilty said at the Art Gallery of NSW yesterday, with Olley sitting by his side after the award was announced. "Well, I've been with Margaret, and, sure, I took photographs, but I made steel-plate etchings as well, and I did drawings, I used a lot of things."
 In a review in The Weekend Australian last Saturday of the 41 Archibald finalists, national art critic Christopher Allen decried those paintings that appeared to be based on a photograph, including Quilty's.
 The large-scale portrait has captured Olley — renowned painter, benefactor and a much-loved figure in Australian arts — in a characteristic gesture, with a raised eyebrow.
 Olley, 87, was marking her second Archibald victory as a subject, albeit after a gap of 63 years.
 A portrait of her by William Dobell won the prize in 1948, five years after Dobell's highly contentious win in 1943 with his portrait of Joshua Smith. Olley has not won the Archibald herself.
 Quilty said he had been moved to paint Olley because he respected her as one of society's elders with vigorous opinions.
 She had also helped his career, in part by awarding him the 2002 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
 "You don't walk away from meeting someone like Margaret, someone who has such an incredibly left-of-centre view of the world, and so refreshing," he said.
 "There's not much you can say to her that she hasn't thought through, and she doesn't have an argument for."
 Olley revealed that Quilty had asked her to pose nude. "He did ask me to pose naked," she said. "I thought, 'Will I or won't I?' I kept thinking of all those drawings that Bill Dobell did of me naked with a hat on . . . So that's where Ben's idea came from."



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