We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

Portraits of distinction

A person sitting in a chair works on a portrait painting, lying in front of them, of a person in a blue suit

Victoria Atkinson works on her portrait of Trent Zimmerman for the Archibald Prize 2021. Artwork © the artist. Image courtesy Studio A

The distinctive styles of these artists caught the eye of the judges of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes.

‘I think in pictures.’

That’s what Xeni Kusumitra told the Art Gallery of New South Wales when discussing her work in the Archibald Prize 2021.

Xeni had closely observed her subject, Michael Dagostino, at the Campbelltown Art Centre where he is the director. ‘I watched him long enough to record his movement and posture in my memory. I ran the “film” (like a series of moving pictures) that I had memorised before I chose the pose that I thought represented him best.’

Since 2018, Xeni, who has a nursing degree and who also works as an autism advocate, has been  attending Little Orange, a Campbelltown Arts Centre studio for Western Sydney artists who identify as a person with disability, d/Deaf or hard of hearing.

Also in Sydney is Studio A, a social enterprise that supports professional artists with intellectual disability. Its chairperson, lawyer Shane Simpson, is another 2021 Archibald subject, painted by Thom Roberts, one of the studio’s artists. They too forged a relationship on site. Thom, who likes to rename the people he meets, calls Shane ‘Adam’. ‘Adam is the boss of this place – Studio A’, says Thom. ‘But I call it “Studio C” (I do it Thom’s way ).’

Thom has been building his art career for a while now, and his work was included in The National 2019: New Australian Art and the 2018 Salon des Refusés. ‘I’m still going to be an artist until I’m a very old man,’ he has said.

Like Thom, Victoria Atkinson is a Studio A artist whose work was selected for the 2021 Archibald. Her boldy coloured painting depicts her friend, Liberal politician Trent Zimmerman, and celebrates their shared ‘Rainbow Love’ identity.

Two people, one with round glasses, stand in a gallery space next to a painting of the person with glasses. In the portrait, they are depicted with two pairs of glasses and two sets of ears.

Portrait subject Shane Simpson (left) with artist Thom Roberts, Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. Artwork © the artist

Two people stand in front of a small portrait painting. One of them is depicted in the portrait.

Portrait subject Michael Dagostino and artist Xeni Kusumitra, Archibald Prize 2021 finalist. Artwork © the artist

Two people stand either side of a portrait. Like in the painting, the person to its left is wearing a suit and tie and has a balding head and broad smile.

Archibald Prize 2021 finalist Victoria Atkinson with her portrait subject, Trent Zimmerman. Artwork © the artist

Two people stand in front of a triptych hanging on a gallery wall.

Sulman Prize 2021 finalists Mathew Calandra (left) and Chris O’Doherty, aka Reg Mombassa (right), with Mathew’s work, now in Art Gallery of New South Wales collection. Artwork © the artist

A person wearing glasses and a colourful dress stands next to a portrait of a bespectacled person with a background of flowers.

Archibald Prize 2020 finalist Emily Crockford with her self-portrait. Artwork © the artist

A person with short hair, wearing a t-shirt and vest, stands next to a painted portrait showing the heads and shoulders of two people.

Archibald Prize 2020 finalist Digby Webster with the dual portrait he created with Neil Tomkins, where they each painted the other artist. Artwork © the artist

Fellow Studio A artist Mathew Calandra was not only selected as a Sulman 2021 finalist; his work  has since been acquired for the Art Gallery’s collection. ‘Calandra creates other worlds,’ says Art Gallery curator Anne Ryan. ‘For not only are his drawings fantastical but his tight linework and careful washes of colour are themselves transformative.’

In 2020, Mathew was one of the Studio A artists involved in painting a huge and much-loved mural in our entrance court as part of Archie Plus, which was held alongside that year’s Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes.

Another of the mural artists, Emily Crockford, was also an Archibald 2020 finalist with a self-portrait. She joined two other finalists, Digby Webster and Neil Tomkins, in an online conversation for Accessible Arts NSW to discuss their involvement with the Archibald, their career development and what it’s like being an artist with disability in Australia’s visual art sector.

Digby also talked about entering the Archibald with ABC TV. In that interview he said:

'I just want to be a person who shows people with disability how they can follow their footsteps, how they fulfill their dreams, by making movies, art or dance, or anything else …'

Entry forms and instructions for 2022 will be available from 31 January for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman competitions. We encourage artists with disability who wish to enter to contact us to discuss any particular needs, either by phone on 02 9225 1700 or by emailing entries@ag.nsw.gov.au

You can still catch the Archibald Prize 2020 and Archibald Prize 2021 works on tour.