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Art judges accused of drawing wrong conclusion
By Natasha Wallace
May 30, 2006
PROPPED against the wall of an otherwise dull courtroom, the piercing black eyes of the actor David Gulpilil stare intently from the huge Archibald Prize-winning portrait.
His brow is furrowed, and with good reason.
The striking depiction by Craig Ruddy, which won him the Archibald and the People's Choice awards in 2004, is at the centre of a legal fight on the definition of the word painting.
Tony Johansen, a Kings Cross artist and regular Archibald entrant, says the Art Gallery of NSW Trust should not have awarded the prize to Ruddy because his work is "not a painting but a drawing" and was thus ineligible because it breached the 1916 will of the late Jules Francois Archibald.
Johansen, who submitted a portrait of Carlotta, of Les Girls, wants the gallery to reconsider the $35,000 award.
Yesterday, at the start of a two-day hearing in the NSW Supreme Court, a bevy of barristers pondered the distinction between a painting and a drawing, and how the former should be defined.
Ruddy, 37, of Tamarama, used acrylic paint, charcoal (stick and powdered), pencil, Conte sticks (a form of crayon), pastels and varnish in his work, which took two weeks.
He applied the material on a pale-yellow, patterned wallpaper with a damp cloth and his hands.
"There are many, many stages of the work … the pigment was built up," he told the court. Charcoal comprised about 75 per cent, he said.
Chris Birch, SC, for Johansen, said that based on "factual issues", the picture "cannot properly be described as painted".
"We say that it's an important principle that a renowned prize such as this should be awarded to these works which are intended to be the recipients, and only those," Dr Birch said.
Brett Walker, SC, for the art gallery, said it was a "bizarre proposition" that it was not a painting. Michel Sourgnes, an international art consultant, agreed with Mr Walker that using a rag to move materials, smudging or scraping did not mean that a picture was not a painting.
Elizabeth Churcher, a former director of the National Gallery of Australia, said that where materials, including powder, were "suspended" in a liquid such as water or varnish, then it became a painting.
Outside court Ruddy said his work combined methods of drawing and painting.
"A lot of people are traditionalists and very set in ways and I think that's what this is about."
* In 1944 William Dobell's portrait of the artist Joshua Smith was alleged to be a caricature. A court ruled it was a portrait.
* In 1975 the trust reversed a decision to award the prize to John Bloomfield for a portrait of the film director Tim Burstall because it was painted from a photo. In 1981 Bloomfield sued, unsuccessfully.
Archibald winner victorious in court
The World Today - Wednesday, 14 June , 2006 12:38:00
Reporter: Brendan Trembath
ELEANOR HALL: An award winning Australian artist is today celebrating a legal victory against a determined rival.
Craig Ruddy won the prestigious Archibald Prize in 2004 with a charcoal portrait of a famous Aboriginal actor, David Gulpilil.
But within days Mr Ruddy learned that an unsuccessful contestant was questioning whether the portrait satisfied the competition's rules.
Now though, a judge has ruled that the matter is best left to those in the art world, as Brendan Trembath reports.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: When Craig Ruddy created his award winning portrait of the Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, the artist used more than just acrylic paint.
The main medium was charcoal supplemented with pencils, chalk pastels and even a blast or two of hairspray.
While a rival, Tony Johansen, claimed in court it was not a painting, Craig Ruddy argued otherwise.
CRAIG RUDDY: It is a painting, and it is a portrait that embodies both drawing and painting.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Craig Ruddy sighed with relief as he walked from the New South Wales Supreme Court, where a judge had dismissed a legal challenge against the declaration of the 2004 Archibald Prize.
CRAIG RUDDY: I think it's a victory for art in general. I don't think art should be judged in the courtroom, and I think that was made very clear today.
Everyone has their own perspective taken from, yeah, their perception on life, and opinions differ. A lot of people always agree and disagree, it's the law of nature, and I think we all need to accept that.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Justice John Hamilton did not want to be cast as an art critic. He listened to those who were, though.
The judge found two highly qualified experts firmly held opposite views as to whether Mr Ruddy's work could or could not be characterised as painted. So the picture could be characterised either way.
The judge said the matter was best left to the art world.
A defeated Tony Johansen was obviously disappointed, but he was not prepared to concede Craig Ruddy's award-winning portrait was a painting.
TONY JOHANSEN: It did seem to me that the work did not fit an ordinary definition of what a painting is.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: What will this whole challenge cost you?
TONY JOHANSEN: Uh, two years of my life and an awful lot of passion.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The New South Wales Supreme Court is no stranger to artistic arguments.
This is the fourth time in about 80 years that the court has considered a legal challenge involving the Archibald Prize, named after the late J F Archibald, proprietor and editor of The Bulletin magazine.
There were many journalists there to cover today's outcome. The old media soul would probably be chuckling at the thought that his art prize is still a good yarn.
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