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Friday, 28 September 2007

Maryanne Coutts' self-portrait titled Melbourne nabs the Portia Geach Memorial Award, which hangs at the S.H. Ervin Gallery (Observatory Hill, Sydney) until 4 November. In its 43rd year, the prize is for a portrait "painted from life of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters or the Sciences", which is a duty statement similar to that of the more-famous Archibald Prize.

In The Sydney Morning Herald, Louise Schwartzkoff quotes Jane Watters, the gallery's director and one of the judges: "There's not a dull moment in the painting. Your eye is continually moving from one thing to another." It's an apt comment, if a little tailored for the media, who generally collapse in a rumpled mass of 'she says'es' when confronted by anything approximating real analysis of fine art.

The slideshow is available on the newspaper's home page. It shows that the dominant line is rectilinear with foreground colours generally muted against a more vibrant background. But in the centre of this ground a mass of high-rise construction rendered in a gorgeous blue-dissolving-in-purple hue stands between the figure, which was painted in a mirror, says the artist, and the horizon.

On the left, this is highlighted by a lemon-yellow sky. On the right it is capped by a mass of lowering, grey cloud with a greenish tint. And the Dandenong Ranges ripple across the picture like laughter. This line is echoed in the outline of the subject's tracksuit top, especially around the shoulders.

But against the dominant straight-up-and-down dialectic several delicate oblique lines militate. The most prominent is the one created by the subject's hand, which holds the brush. Nearby is a drooping cloth in orange and lime.

The generally muted colours are relieved by some lovely canonical splashes. On the left we've already met the yellow sky. Beneath it is a clump of buildings in a similar, only lighter, hue. On the right, a field of orange shaped like a knife cuts across the muddy tints of the distant suburbs.

Most stunning, however, is a vertical sliver of white, also on the right, that stabs upward, pointing toward a brown blind that droops dangerously and is shaped like the blade of a guillotine.

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