Batey’s seen too many hated Abbotts

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Peter Batey with the composite PM portrait titled “Unveiling” by Mark Tippett

“THE whole country is getting political indigestion“, complains Peter Batey, founder and director of the notorious Bald Archy Prize and exhibition – now in its 26th year.

“CityNews” joined Batey and Watson Arts Centre staffers Sara Hogwood and Karina Leske this morning as entries for the 2019 edition were being hung.

The “Bald Archy Prize”, judged by Maude the sulphur-crested cockatoo from Coolac, who has, Batey tells “CityNews”, very strong opinions about this year’s entries.

“But she won’t tell you yet,” he says.

That’s because the canny Maude knows the announcement of the acquisitive $10,000 first prize will be made at Sydney’s Darling Harbour Sofitel during autumn and she’s not about to upset her munificent sponsor, millionaire plastic surgeon and hotelier Jerry Schwartz, who was once the subject of a Bald Archy entry himself.

“The Wicked Witch of Warringah” by Murray Grelis

Batey walked “CityNews” through this year’s 54 entries, noting that they were still waiting on the arrival of Vincent de Gouw’s portrait of the late conductor Richard Gill, which will make it 55.

He stopped in front of an extraordinary work, “Unveiling” by Mark Tippett, which puts together portraits of Australia’s most recent prime ministers, including, he assured, a bit of Julia Gillard “in there somewhere”.

“Australians are politically alert,” he said but that doesn’t always make for sophisticated satire, so there was “not a lot of nuance” to be found in present-day satirical portraiture.

“In the early days artists were keener on being humorous,” he said with a touch of nostalgia.

This year’s portraits are largely political, bookended by “Where Have All the Good PMs gone?” By James Brennan and “The Exasperation of Saint Robert” By John Skillington, which suggests what earlier Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Robert Menzies might have thought of this day’s bunch.

As for the most popular subject, Batey says: “Don’t ask me how many Tony Abbotts there are, and they’re all the same, hate hate hate.”

In one portrait, “Tony Abbott – Cokehead” by Cassandra Brooker, both the border and actual painting include real petroleum coke.

There is another exotic frame for “Our Gladys [Gladys Berejiklian] On the Light Rail Express to Nowhere”, by Dave Ross, who endured danger to source the iridescent blue fur when he ventured into a fancy dress shop to purchase it.

If politicians are “in” this year in the artistic sense, in the other sense, Batey says “this year it’s cricketers who are out” and “Ball Tampering” by Phil Meachem is painted on real sandpaper.

Other portraits border on the scandalous – just what Batey likes.

Batey and his colleague Maude (Dr Maude these days he says – she’s got an online doctorate from a university in Arkansas) usually agree on most matters artistic, but regarding the 2019 obsession with politicians, they have radically different views.

Batey is over this trend, saying: “Why would you even want to be a politician, everything is attacked by the media.”

But Dr Maude can’t get enough of political art – “watch out politicians!” she warns.

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The Bald Archy Award exhibition begins in Canberra before it goes on tour throughout eastern Australia. Watson Arts Centre, 1 Aspinall Street, Watson, 10am-4pm daily, February 8 to March 12. 

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