Culture

Jacqui Lambie Wanted To Be Wearing A Ball Gown And Holding A Gun In Her Archibald Prize Portrait

A ball gown. And a gun.

As the most revered portraiture competition in the country, the Archibald Prize always offers an intriguing insight into Australian culture. Since its inception in 1921, our most talented artists have submitted works that more often than not depict a person of great importance from the arts, sciences or the political arena.

In 1972, Clifton Pugh took out the main prize for his bustling expressionist depiction of Gough Whitlam. Submitted the same year he was elected as Prime Minister, the work is characterised by a great sense of energy. Though seated in an office and wearing a plain suit, the dynamism of the brushstrokes and abstract elements around the subject seem to capture the excitement of the time; an election campaign renowned for its revolutionary spirit.

In 1991, the prize was awarded to Bryan Westwood for his portrait of Paul Keating. Though this was also painted the year the subject came into office, it was entirely different: an austere work of the man in a fully tailored black suit set against a plain backdrop. Standing straight and alone, he emanates the same sense of class and restraint for which his Prime Ministership is now known.

In this year’s exhibition, there will be two separate works of Jacqui Lambie. The first is a beautiful piece by Sydney artist Tania McMurty: an almost pop-styled portrait, it features the Senator in full khaki to denote her time in the military and is presented on a wood panel to represent her Tasmanian heritage. The second is just as apt: an almost ominous monochrome image of her draped in the Australian flag.

But, as the artist Phillip McKay told The Mercury today, Sen Lambie and her advisers initially had some other ideas. “They had come up with the idea that the portrait would see her in a ball gown holding an MK40,” he said. “As tempting and as sensational as [that] image is, I decided to take my mother’s advice and exercise some social responsibility by not including the gun.”

Can. You. Even. Imagine.

In one respect, it’s a strange move because Lambie has in fact spoken out against those looking to loosen gun laws in the past. Even if she was trying to signify her dedication to the military, a handgun in formal civilian wear is hardly the way to do it. Alternatively, this makes total sense. This is the same woman who just made a joke about the Greens being the same as ISIS.

Expectation.

Reality.

Sen Lambie told The Mercury she was happy with the end result of the work. “I initially offered some ideas to Phillip about the portrait when he first approached me, but also told him that he had complete artistic freedom,” she said. “Phillip has painted me warts and all – and I love it.”

In case you were wondering, the artist has stated the background is also a word jumble of “infamous Lambiisms” and the microphone is a “commentary on the curious proliferation of media attention Jacqui attracts”.

It’s not exactly the passion of Whitlam or the grace of Keating, but you can’t say it’s not appropriate.

The finalists of the Archibald Prize and currently being hung at the Art Gallery of NSW and the winner will be announced July 17.