Listen to mum: Meyne Wyatt makes history with Packing Room Prize win


Meyne Wyatt was locked down in Sydney, at a loose end with filming suspended, when he started to sketch his face.

Not having painted formally in 10 years, the Wongutha-Yamatji actor sent a photograph of his progress to his mother, Western Australia based artist and children’s illustrator Sue Wyatt, an Archibald finalist in 2003.

She advised: “‘Enter it in the Archibald.” “You do what your mother tells you,” Wyatt grins.

The wry self-portrait made art history after being awarded the Packing Room Prize in this year’s pandemic-delayed Archibald Prize.

It’s the first time an Indigenous artist has won any of the prizes on offer in the Archibald Prize in its 99-year history.

“I’m surprised to be here,” the artist, writer, and actor said. “It was just a COVID project first.”

Head packer Brett Cuthbertson awarded the $1500 prize to the Western Australian-born, Sydney-based artist in an event that was live-streamed to the public for the first time in order to comply with health regulations.

“In previous interviews, I’ve constantly said I’ll never pick a self-portrait,” Cuthbertson said. “Well, I’m full of it because I’ve actually picked a self-portrait. The difference is this time the artist is not just an artist, he’s also a celebrity. I thought it was great, he’s having a crack . . . he hasn’t painted for ten years.”

Overall it was a record year for entries with 2565 submitted to the Archibald (portrait), Wynne (landscape or figurative sculpture), and Sulman (genre, subject or mural) prizes, beating the previous record set in 2012.

It was a record year too for works by Indigenous artists and works featuring Indigenous sitters. Three Indigenous artists from a single arts centre were also shortlisted.

The three – four-time finalist Vincent Namatjira and first-timers Kaylene Whiskey and Tiger Yaltangki – all work out of Iwantja Arts in the tiny community of Indulkana in far northwest South Australia.

Nicholas Harding captured political commentator David Marr in repose, while James Powditch painted Labor leader Anthony Albanese in shadow in a portrait titled Once Upon a Time in Marrickville.

The prolific Wendy Sharpe brought actor Magda Szubanski to life as alter ego Sharon in a netball skirt surrounded by flames representing her father’s legacy in war-torn Europe.

Standing among the 55 finalists at the end of what he described as a “challenging year” Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said it was clear, “Nothing stops an artist.”

A graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Meyne is familiar to television viewers of Neighbours, Mystery Road and Redfern Now. He burst onto the political stage when he read from his urgent play City of Gold on the ABC’s Q and A program.

The last formal painting Meyne completed was a portrait of his cousin, the AFL player, Jarrod Oakley-Nicholls. “I always wanted to get back into it but life and work got in the way so there was never an opportunity . . . so it was now or never.”

On set, Meyne says he tends to draw and doodle on scripts. “They are always torn up, and ripped and stripped and people wonder why I don’t know my lines.”

Namatjira, grandson of legendary watercolourist Albert Namatjira, chose retired champion footballer Adam Goodes as his subject.

Namatjira, who last year was awarded an OAM, was motivated to paint Goodes after seeing last year’s documentaries detailing his lifelong fight against racism.

“Watching those films stirred up some pretty rough feelings, and memories of my own experiences,” said Namatjira. “It turns out that Adam and I have a fair bit in common and we both know the pressures that come with being an Aboriginal man in this country. We’ve both got young daughters, and want them to have bright futures ahead of them, with nothing holding them back.

“Goodesy is one of our living legends, so I hope I did him justice on the canvas.”

Namatjira said he was thrilled to be selected a fourth time and particularly excited to be joined by his colleagues, Whiskey and Yaltangki.

“Goodesy is one of our living legends, so I hope I did him justice on the canvas.”

Namatjira said he was thrilled to be selected a fourth time and particularly excited to be joined by his colleagues, Whiskey and Yaltangki.

“We support each other here at Iwantja Arts, we’re proud of each other’s achievements,” he said. “I did tell them though, that they have to get short-listed a few more times before they catch up to me!”

Alongside the Archibald successes, Peter Mungkuri, Alec Baker and Betty Muffler from Iwantja have been shortlisted for the Wynne Prize.

Artists had three extra months to work on their entries after the Art Gallery of NSW opted to delay the exhibition until after the health crisis when, they said, art would be needed more than ever.

The Packing Room Prize is selected by gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang entries with Cuthbertson commanding 52 per cent of the vote.


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