Bill Leak once told me a short story of the moment he realised he would never win an Archibald Prize for Australian portraiture.
At the time, Bill was a renowned political cartoonist whose opinions over time progressed from radical left to sensible centre, to conservative.
Bill despised elitism, relating more to the average bloke than Sydney society dinner party wowsers.
Despite his extraordinary talents (artist, writer and musician), he was a knockabout Aussie bloke, never more comfortable than when in a singlet, jeans and no shoes.
“I didn’t leave the Left,” he’d say, “The Left left me.”
One year at a pre-Archibald drinks function at the NSW Art Gallery, an ambitious and hopeful Bill was speaking with the Gallery’s then director, Edmund Capon, when the President of the Gallery Trust, David Gonski (influential businessman and author of the infamous Gonski Report) walked over to say hello to Capon.
Capon introduced Bill.
According to Bill, as soon as it dawned on the Gallery’s President who he had just been introduced to, Gonski’s complexion ranged from white to shades of bright red, glared at Bill, turned his back and walked off, without so much as a word.
Bill said Capon didn’t know what to say, except to apologise.
For whatever reason, and Bill suspected it was his cartoons, he was instantly judged by the most senior person of influence on the Gallery’s Trust. Kudos to Capon, though, a warm and friendly fellow, that he appreciated and liked Bill.
After several years of entering some of the best portraits ever painted in the history of Australian art, he simply gave up.
Bill Leak was the best Australian artist to never win an Archibald.
I know he was bitter, because he told me. Bill knew he was the best, because he was. Most of the rest of us knew it, too.
Fast forward to 2021. History repeats.
Bill has sadly passed on, and I miss our daily chats of his amazing life stories – private and public known. Bill’s equally amazingly talented son, Johannes, has picked up the baton with gusto and run with it – replacing Bill as cartoonist at The Australian.
This year Johannes decided to have a crack at the Archibald Prize for Australian portraiture.
A couple of months ago, Johannes stopped by for lunch where he revealed he would be taking two weeks off to paint Jacinta Price for the Archibald Prize.
Price is the renowned aboriginal woman who truly does more work for her community than most of the pretenders and grifters combined. A perfect candidate for portraiture.
If history was to repeat itself, I thought, the name of artist and subject would be enough to upset the Gallery Trustees and judges. Johannes and Jacinta are conservative voices – each doing, not signalling.
The Archibald Prize is sadly no longer an award for Australia’s best portrait, but has – like so many of our institutions – become infiltrated by woke ‘progressives’ pushing a political agenda, unrepresentative of most Australians.
Socialist elites on an agenda, looking after fellow socialist elites. George Orwell was right.
Four weeks after his stopover, Johannes sent me a preview of his painting.
I was awestruck. I knew we had a 2021 winner.
But, then again, I knew we didn’t.
I suspected Johannes would suffer the same fate as his brilliantly talented father, and be judged not on his talent but on his considered, conservative nature.
Today, you don’t have to have any talent to win the Archibald. You have to be woke – it helps a lot if you can place on your CV you identify as a gay, transgender, aboriginal…funded by the taxpayer.
The 2020 winner, like most entries, was a childish interpretation of the aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes by the grandson of the great aboriginal painter, Albert Namatjira.
The grandfather was an outstanding artist, specialising in Australian landscapes – one of my favourite artists, who truly understood the colours and essence of the Australian outback, and captured this country magnificently.
His grandson, in my opinion, is recognised by his surname. His paintings don’t evoke the same awe and beauty as his grandfather. What he does do well, is push his aboriginal heritage and admits it. In today’s woke world, you only need to flag your political, woke views to win an award – from Australian of The Year to the once-great Archibald prize.
On winning the Archibald prize in 2020, Vincent Namatjira said, “What an honour it is to be the first Indigenous winner of the Archibald prize. I’m so proud to be the first but I also have to acknowledge all the Indigenous finalists and Indigenous sitters for this year and past years.”
“To me it’s about time for an Aboriginal person to be recognised as an Archibald winner and also a turning point for Aboriginal people in Australia.”
The black American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King famously said, “”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Or in this case, by the quality of the art.
If we were to go by the standards set by Martin Luther King, Johannes Leak’s portrait of Jacinta Price should have won by a country mile.