The four-time Archibald Prize finalist doesn’t mind not winning the coveted award. To her, the most important part of the process is finding inspiration and knowing she did her best
Iwent through a lot of hypotheticals in primary school about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an opera singer, even though I can’t sing very well. I was interested in fashion design, too. But then I met a fantastic career advisor in Year 10 and she posed the question: “If time and money were not an issue, what would you want to do every day?” I wanted to paint and draw.
This is the fourth time I’ve been a finalist in the Archibald Prize. My previous sitters were Rose Byrne, John Safran and Paul Capsis. This year, it was [former Australian Human Rights Commission president] Gillian Triggs. What was a bit tricky was the fact that, given who she is, putting certain visual design elements that I would normally use into the painting would not work. I also realised she was much more than her job. I think that’s what we forget about our leaders; that they are people, too. When you dehumanise someone – and I think it happens to women in the public eye a lot – that’s when online trolling and abusive language happens.
Nora Heysen was the first woman to win the Archibald in 1938, and it took 22 years for another woman to win.there is such a disparity with how many female winners and sitters there are, compared to men. Yet 70 per cent of graduates from art school are women. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s troubling. Even though I don’t consciously think of myself as a “female” artist and that I need to fight for representation, I probably do it subconsciously. I feel like I want answers.
The controversy this year with the winner of the Archibald highlights how subjective art is. Artist John Olsen said it was “the worst choice in the history of the prize”. He’s entitled to his opinion, but given he was not one of the judges this year, speaking out is probably futile. What is “respectable” art, anyway? Every year works have gotten through that I don’t think deserved it. And some years I haven’t agreed with the decision of the winner. This year I felt comfortable with the decision. If you’re an artist who has been rejected, it doesn’t mean you should value someone else’s opinion more highly than yours. As long as you’re making something you feel happy with, that’s all you can really do. You do you – there’s no formula for the Archibald. Yvette Coppersmith features in The Archibald, a four-part series premiering 7.30pm, September 12, on Foxtel Arts.