The Archibald Prize carries a special significance for creatively retrograde Australians. It represents art—but not that hoity toity stuff you read about on the Internet. It’s The Manly Daily of the Art World: recognisable faces painted recognisably, with a people’s choice competition that lets you barrack for your favorite entry the way you would cheer for a football team. And cheer we do. Each year, the same artists enter, and like clockwork fights erupt on public transport around Centennial Park between middle-aged men in polo shirts who “will fucken crack ya’ if you keep talking shit about [Ben] Quilty”. My family have been itinerant in this regard: as a young man, we supported the entries depicting Ben Cousins and, after a brief divergence into the world of Heath Ledger portraiture, settled into Team Gladys Berejiklian. Give her five years and she’ll win.
So when I heard they let children enter their own version—the Young Archie—I couldn’t help but attend (the website). This is what I saw.
“Untitled”, Daniel Harford, Age 7 (5-8 Year Olds Category)
Daniel Harford’s sister is a Lovecraftian horror who dentists have unilaterally agreed is beyond help. She is profiled here, in front of what is either a television, the window of a spacecraft, or a fire ravaged wheat field beneath a windmill. The inside of her mouth is the same colour as her skin, and her teeth gravitate in a fierce circle inside her lips, like a tornado full of knives. One pair of eyelashes are directly attached to her eye, while the other set float above her face, as if desperately trying to escape the face to which they have been condemned. Her tongue breaches from the inside of her face the way a whale leaps from the ocean. If the subject was capable of speaking—which I presume she isn’t due to the absence of a throat or anything that looks like it can push air past vocal chords—she would be this nation’s finest advocate for euthanasia. As she stands here she looks like an overdeveloped egg flipped upside down, Frankenstein’s Humpty Dumpty, crying out for self-annihilation.
“Untitled”, Alexander Zhao, Age 7 (5-8 Year Olds Category)
At this point I would like to let you know that almost every entry was titled “Untitled”, including the winners in every category, which is a shameful indictment on the parents who mercilessly bullied their children into fighting for an opportunity to have their rubbish displayed on the world’s largest fridge. Alexander Zhao, who chose to paint his younger brother Max, should ask for a birth certificate or carbon dating, because I hate to break it to you Alex but your brother is 34. I entered the subject’s symptoms—discoloured hands, patches on the face, pale lips, dilated pupils—into Web MD and I’m afraid the news isn’t good, Max. That said, I have to congratulate the artist on capturing his brother’s Marilyn Monroe-esque beauty spot beside the eye: it’s a thrilling piece of detail in what is otherwise a five minute hack-job, where the football is semi grass coloured because the artist didn’t have the attention span to colour it fully in. Final tip, Alex, don’t go to Argentina, they don’t take kindly to such inaccurate renderings of their national uniform over there, and the last thing any of us want is to have to pay a ransom inflated by a status as an artist you don’t deserve.