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Sydney-based artist Nick Stathopoulos has been named as the winner of the 2016 Archibald Prize People’s Choice for what has been described as his “hyper-real” portrait of Sudanese refugee and lawyer, Deng Adut. Something of an Archibald veteran, this is the fifth time that Stathopoulos has been featured in the nation’s most popular prize for portraiture. However, this is the first time that he has won the People’s Choice Award.
“I’m actually a very traditional practitioner by choice,” said Stathopoulos reflecting on the painting, which took him over four months to complete. “I’ve spent my entire life developing my style and process. What I do is time-consuming, laborious and painstaking.”
The artist first heard of Adut after he watched a video promotion for Western Sydney University, which described Deng’s upbringing and his harrowing experiences as a child soldier in Sudan. Now a noted refugee advocate and community leader, Adut fled his country in 1998 and came to Sydney where he put himself through law school.
The People’s Choice – voted on by visitors to the exhibition since it opened in July, and worth $3,500 tio the winner – is often out of sync with the official judges’ decision, which this year selected Louise Herman’s portrait of Barry Humphries. It’s also often fiercely contested, though this year Stathopoulos emerged as a clear winner early on. “I don’t think we give the general public enough credit when it comes to matters of art,” the artist remarked. “In my experience they are very clued-in. And when it comes to the Archibald Prize People’s Choice Award, they seem to get it right every year. The critics may balk, but the public always manages to pick my favourite paintings. So I’m delighted they chose my portrait of Deng Adut. It’s a great affirmation.”
Art Gallery of New South Wales Director Michael Brand congratulated Stathopoulos on his win, saying: “I’ve no doubt that this vote of appreciation by visitors to the Archibald recognises both the meticulous skill of artist Nick Stathopoulos, and the wonderful contribution Deng Adut has made – and is making – to Australian life.”
Adut, meanwhile, says that he is humbled that the Australian public have chosen Stathopoulos’ painting. “It must be some sort of magic, but Nick really captured what’s underneath my skin in his painting,” he said. “It can be hard for me to look at – not least because my nose looks so big!”.
The Archibald Exhibition is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until Oct 9, 2016