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Portraits of woe among Archibald finalists

By AAP Newswire

A portrait of Kurdish-Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani and another of Indigenous author Bruce Pascoe have been selected as finalists for this year's prestigious Archibald Prize.

The award is one of Australia's oldest and richest - with a prize amount of $100,000.

Angus McDonald's portrait of acclaimed novelist Mr Boochani, who was granted refugee status in New Zealand, is one of the 55 finalists announced on Thursday.

McDonald - a six-time Archibald finalist - met Mr Boochani while he was creating a documentary about Manus island.

"I've depicted Boochani directly engaging the viewer as a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived a brutal ordeal and is now free," he said in a statement.

Craig Ruddy's painting of Indigenous writer and farmer Bruce Pascoe has also been selected as a finalist.

The piece, titled Dark Emu, was captured after devastating bushfires swept through East Gippsland, destroying sacred land and taking the life of Mr Pascoe's good friend.

This is Ruddy's fifth time as an Archibald finalist with the NSW artist saying this portrait is his pledge to be an ally for Indigenous Australians and the natural world.

"For someone who had suffered such loss, Bruce's openness and vulnerability were humbling, but it was his gentility and resilience in seeking truth and reconciliation that I wanted to represent," he said in a statement.

Wendy Sharpe, who won the Archibald in 1996, is also a finalist this year with her portrait of comedian and actor Magda Szubanski.

Sharpe describes the piece as a "despairing version" of Szubanski's comic character or alter-ego Sharon Strzelecki from the TV series Kath and Kim.

"Magda is haunted by her father's traumatic experiences in World War II in the Polish resistance, and by current world events," Sharpe said.

There is strong Indigenous representation among this year's finalists which feature portraits by Blak Douglas, Vincent Namatjira and Tiger Yaltangki.

Also among them is first-time Archibald prize entrant Meyne Wyatt who on Thursday became the first Indigenous artist to win any of the prizes on offer in the Archibald's 99-year history.

The Wongutha-Yamatji man won the Packing Room Prize for his self-portrait.

Already a widely recognised actor, Wyatt made headlines when he performed a powerful four-minute-monologue from his play City Of Gold on ABC's Q&A in June.

The West Australian-born, Sydney-based artist, writer and actor said he was "absolutely ecstatic and truly humbled by this wonderful honour".

Art Gallery of New South Wales head packer Brett Cuthbertson said it was unusual for a self-portrait to win the prize, which comes with $1500.

"I have been known to say that artists who enter a self-portrait have no hope of winning ... but in this case I made an exception to my rule," he said.

"When Meyne came into the gallery to deliver his entry he said he hadn't painted in some time and the work was just a COVID project. I loved the story and was really impressed with the result."

Wyatt's painting was selected from 55 finalist works from a record number of entries and is only the second self-portrait to win the Packing Room Prize in its 29-year history.

"Most of all I want to thank my mum, who encouraged me to enter the Archibald Prize in the first place and gave me the courage to be so bold," Wyatt said.

Wyatt's mother Susan Wyatt is also an artist and was an Archibald finalist in 2003.

Finalists for the Wynne and Sulman Prizes were also announced on Thursday.

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prize winners will be announced on September 25.