Juan Ford Ultrapilgrim, oil on linen, 168cm x 214cm © Juan Ford Archibald Finalist 2012
The 2012 Archibald closed at TarraWarra Museum of Art on the 8th of July. Over three thousand people attended on the last day. I feel a bit wistful as I write that…the Archibald’s been a real feature of my blog calendar for the last two years and since it is only allowed in regional galleries for two years at a time, it won’t be back to TWMA next year. To assuage my grief, I want to describe the last of my 2012 Archibald experiences.
As a part of their Archibald program, TWMA organised several evenings where they opened the gallery to the public after hours. Those lucky enough to attend, could meet one of the Archibald finalists and hear about their arts practice and the making of their portrait. On the night I attended, visitors were nicely primed with a glass of wine and nibblies in the foyer on arrival. A musician filled the airwaves with Bach and Mozart. TWMA’s new director Victoria Lynn hosted the evening with warmth and grace, but the true star of the night was a very articulate Juan Ford and his self portrait.
Oh that self portrait… If I say I find it simply stunning, even spectacular, I hope you’ll forgive my alliteration. The portrait speaks so eloquently of the inner life of the artist. A pilgrim searching for meaning, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, with nothing more than his creativity to sustain him.
It was one of two faceless portraits in this years Archibald, powerfully asking the question- can a painted figure without a face be called a portrait? A hotly debated theme of the 2012 Archibald. I made my decision to join the affirmative team very early in the debate, engaging in several robust discussions from that position. I found opinions to be polarised, always passionate. So I guess I expected that Juan’s audience that night would be keen to enter into that debate. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The crowd was utterly respectful, simply wanting to hear from the artist and understand his process. Wise art lovers, like the pilgrim himself, searching for meaning, perhaps trusting that the artist is the expert. That being said, when I read the statement published with the image of Juan’s self portrait, on the Gallery of New South Wales website, I could be in no doubt that the self portrait’s shortlisting for this countries most notorious portrait competition, was spot on…
‘This year he realises it’s been over 10 years that he’s been living from art, with its many scary, precarious moments. So it’s time to make a painting about it all. What he looks like is beside the point, there’s no need to represent that. That wouldn’t explain anything. But the lonesome pilgrim, going who knows where, keeps coming to mind. It’s a funny image, simultaneously serious and absurd. Like himself.’
Incidentally, I was pretty chuffed to discover that Juan Ford is a local, living in Eltham. By my calculation, almost 10% of this years Archibald finalists share my hood; Raelene Sharp, Kate Tucker, Michael Peck and Juan. It’s official, there’s something in the air along the north eastern fringes of Greater Melbourne.
Juan Ford is represented by Dianne Tanzer Gallery.
The only good thing about saying goodbye to the Archibald at TarraWarra is that it makes way for something new. In a few weeks time, the TarraWarra Biennial 2012: Sonic Spheres, curated by TWMA director Victoria Lynn will open. It will marry sound and visual arts in a way not seen in the Yarra Valley before…perhaps I’ll be able to forgive the Archibald for leaving after all. Stay tuned to Isiiad for some of the sights and sounds of Sonic Spheres.