Tony Costa has been awarded the 2019 Archibald Prize for his portrait of contemporary Australian artist and Zen Buddhist Lindy Lee, the Art Gallery of NSW announced today, with the Sir John Sulman Prize going to McLean Edwards and the Wynne Prize going to Sylvia Ken.

Lindy LeeTony Costa’s Lindy Lee. Photo © Art Gallery of NSW

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed, honoured and thrilled,” Costa said of the win. “I am very aware of all those who have come before me as Archibald Prize winners and I am humbled, to say the least. What matters to me is not visual accuracy but feelings above all else. In a nutshell, that’s what I do.”

“The work is clearly the product of close and sympathetic observation by Tony. Its strong, expressive painterliness and minimal palette project a sense of calm and repose, reflective of Lindy Lee’s Zen Buddhist practice,” Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said.

Board president David Gonski said it wasn’t easy to decide on a winner. “There was a lively and thoughtful debate, but in the end the judges were unanimous in their choices,” he said.

Costa was inspired when he listened to an interview Lee gave at the Art Gallery and found himself agreeing with many of her ideas. “I was attracted to her wisdom, humility, courage, humour and, above all, her deep focus regarding her art practice,” Costa said in his note on the painting. “I approach each painting with an empty head, beginning every portrait with charcoal drawings as I collect sensations and information. The challenge for me is to trap the energy of my sitter – the emotional feeling over and above the physical reality. In my portrait of Lindy, I have kept the colour minimal to avoid any visual noise. Ultimately the invention and the unity of the work is what matters most.”

Jude Rae was awarded a highly commended for her portrait of actor Sarah Peirse as Miss Docker in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Patrick White’s A Cheery Soul.

Sylvia Ken’s Seven Sisters. Photo © Art Gallery of NSW

Slyvia Ken, from the Amata community in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in South Australia, was awarded the Wynne Prize – for best landscape painting of Australian scenery and worth $50,000 – for her Seven Sisters. “‘I listen to the old people’s stories and I think about these stories and then the ideas come for my paintings,” she said. “I listen when they are talking about tjukurpa and telling creation stories, and when they say to me, ‘No, you should paint this way, the Seven Sisters’.”

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili was awarded the Roberts Family Prize for Pink Lighting, while Robyn Sweaney was awarded the Trustees’ Watercolour for Perfect uncertainty.

McLean Edwards’s The first girl that knocked on his door. Photo © Art Gallery of NSW

McLean Edwards took out the Sulman Prize – awarded to the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project in oil, acrylic, watercolour or mixed media, worth $50,000 – for his work The first girl that knocked on his door. “This is a painting about romantic engagement. My protagonist holds an apple/phone and is surrounded by new-growth leaves,” he said in his note. “There is a tree stump, stripped bare; febrile and baleful with one eye open. My hero’s coat is of the ‘look at me’ variety, a map of roads, the pattern a bitumen colour and rather uneven.”

The Packing Room Prize, which went to first-time Archibald entrant Tessa MacKay, was announced earlier this month.