Sydney Morning Herald Column

Sam Leach wins Archibald

Published March 27, 2010
Sam Leach,Tim Minchin, 2010

A good winner in poor year: that seemed to be the consensus view of Sam Leach’s victory in this year’s Archibald. The Trustees sprang the ultimate surprise by picking the best entry. To give Leach the Wynne Prize as well was an extravagant gesture.
I’m feeling a little smug at having picked the winner last week, although I honestly thought the Trustees would have gone elsewhere. In a year of large, leaden canvases, one of the few remaining avenues for controversy was to choose a small picture. Hung between two gigantic works, the Leach painting looks like it is being menaced by a couple of angry elephants.
One of the reasons this diminutive portrait stands out from the crowd is that the pose is so stiff and awkward. Tim Minchin is not seated comfortably but standing bolt-upright, his bare feet protruding from a suit. It is a superior variation on the cliché of the sad clown – the performer who gets up on stage to make people laugh, but carries a great ball of anxiety in his chest. Minchin’s stance is virtually the opposite of a pose. He appears to be rigid with tension.
Compared to the psychological subtlety of this work, most of this year’s entries are little more than masks. It was pleasing to find Nigel Milsom on the extended short list, as announced by Chair of Trustees, Stephen Lowy, but it is hard to accept that the paintings by McLean Edwards, Craig Ruddy and Kate Beynon, were also contenders. With committees there is a very fine line between getting it right or wrong.
Archibald Prize, Art Gallery of NSW,  March 27-May 30, 2010
Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, March 27, 2010