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Winner: Archibald Prize 1997

Nigel Thomson Barbara Blackman

oil on linen

190 x 270 cm

Nigel Thomson’s portrait of Barbara Blackman is concerned with the concept of blindness and its ramifications.

Barbara Blackman is a writer, essayist and librettist and has been involved in the arts for about 30 years. A co-founder of The Little Lookout theatre, she is also a radio producer and an oral historian for the National Library of Australia. Her blindness began with a congenital disease contracted when she was 16 and she was completely blind by 40.

Through this painting, Thomson is trying to understand blindness from the perspective of an artist whose craft is entirely based on the visual. He started with the concept and then found his sitter; “Barbara Blackman seemed the obvious choice,” he says. The bright floral dress Blackman wears was her choice. Thomson says, “She can’t see the beauty and brilliance of nature but wears nature’s glory”. The blurred picture in the background is, the artist assumes, a painting of Barbara by her ex-husband Charles Blackman. Thomson uses this as a contrast to the sharp detail and focus with which he has painted his sitter.

Nigel Thomson previously won the Archibald Prize in 1983. He has also won the Sulman Prize twice.