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Head to head Tim Storrier v McLean Edwards in Australia's richest art prize

The Daily Telegraph 17 October 2017

Jacqui Taffel, Wentworth Courier

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ARTIST McLean Edwards is all over the Doug Moran portrait prize this year.

The two paintings he entered, of film maker Warwick Thornton and a self-portrait, were selected as semi-finalists. The self-portrait made it into the finalists, as did Tim Storrier’s portrait of Edwards, both vying to win $150,000 this week in Australia’s richest art prize.

Edwards, who lives in Vaucluse, has been hung in the Archibald five times; this is his third time in the Moran, with the 30 finalists’ paintings on show from October 19.

He has also been the subject of many Archibald entries — he can’t remember how many artists have painted him, but before Storrier there was Lucy Culliton, Rhys Lee, Jason Benjamin, Dean Brown and Alexander McKenzie.

Dean Brown’s portrait of Mclean Edwards, an Archibald Prize finalist in 2016.

Lee also painted Edwards for this year’s Moran.

“It didn’t make it but it was a great painting,” Edwards says.

Does he have any theories about his popularity as a sitter — or in the case of the Storrier portrait, as a stander?

“It’s weird!” Edwards says. “I don’t know. Maybe they just want me in their studios because life is boring — a bit of verve in an otherwise humdrum, solitary existence.”

He’s joking, but it points to one reason people keep painting him — because he’s good company.

Edwards became friends with Storrier after painting him for the Archibald in 2010. Now Storrier has returned the favour. Edwards did six or seven sittings with him, but didn’t get any say in how he would be portrayed.

McLean Edwards’ portrait of artist Tim Storrier, a finalist in the 2010 Archibald Prize.

“Tim’s an autocrat,” he says. “That’s not the way I work, I like a bit of cross-pollination, but that’s because I usually paint other painters so I trust them, they know what they’re talking about. Tim is such a sensational artist ... I was very excited to be painted by him.”

Storrier did a sketch of Edwards for his wife last year that hangs in their hallway.

“It was very good, and very flattering,” Edwards says. “I don’t think he went down that route with the portrait this time.”

Not that he’s worried about that — he was delighted with it. “It glowed as a painting. I disassociated myself from it, looking at it as you might any other painting — marvelling at it, not necessarily the representation of me.”

Artist McLean Edwards was delighted by Tim Storrier’s painting of him. Picture: John Appleyard

The portrait, called The Lunar Savant (Portrait of McLean Edwards), shows him lit by moonlight, holding his habitual cigarette, one shoe off, wearing a shabby, stained coat and a lairy tie.

Edwards sees something of the holy fool about it. “But I think it’s an affectionate painting.”

It also has a sense of humour with its own in-jokes. The tie is the same one Storrier wore when Edwards painted him, and in his younger days, Edwards got around in an old stained overcoat, going for the “Samuel Beckett goes to art school” look. It was, he noted, “spectacularly unsuccessful with the ladies”.

Edwards has no particular strategy when selecting a painting for the big portrait prizes.

Painting of actor Cate Blanchett and her family by McLean Edwards, 2006 Archibald Prize finalist.

“The essential thing for the artist and sitter, and I’m speaking as both, is that it’s a convivial transaction. It doesn’t make a good work of art but it helps,” he said.

His sitting with Storrier was entirely convivial. “It was an experience I can safely say now it’s all over didn’t do any lasting harm to our friendship.”

But then they found themselves pitted against each other for the main prize.

Edwards laughs. “That’s right! I’m going to take the old man out.”

Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, October 19-December 17, Juniper Hall, Paddington,

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