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Winner: Archibald Prize 2022

Blak Douglas Moby Dickens

synthetic polymer paint on linen

300 x 200 cm

‘Spiritually, we all know that Mother Earth is angry at us,’ says Blak Douglas, a Sydney-based artist with Dhungatti heritage. His portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, who lives on Bundjalung Country in Lismore, is a metaphor for the disastrous floods that hit northern NSW in early 2022. Its title references the 1851 novel Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Douglas says, ‘Karla is Moby – a strong, prized figure pursued by foreign combatants.’

Douglas often uses flat-bottomed clouds as a symbol in his work, representing what he calls the ‘false ceiling of government’. There are 14 of them in this painting, indicating the number of days and nights that the first deluge lasted in February.

‘The story of Noah’s Ark comes to mind,’ says Douglas. ‘One would think that a devoutly religious prime minister might take significantly more note of the community’s desperate call for assistance.’

He says that the leaking buckets in the portrait serve as a cryptic acknowledgement of the commissions that many commercial galleries take on artworks sold, which range from 10 to 50 percent. ‘The rising muddied waters are a symbol of the artist’s position within the art world – trepidatious, unchartered and ominous,’ he adds.

This is the fifth time Douglas has been selected as an Archibald finalist. In late 2022, an artwork by Karla Dickens will be installed above the entrance of the Art Gallery’s historic building, as one of the major commissions for the Sydney Modern Project.

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