Brushes With Fame tells the story of the Archibald Portrait Prize, Australia’s most coveted, controversial and popular art prize. It tells the story of how Australia’s great painters have created new and startling images to explore our national sense of identity and character.
The film begins as Wendy Sharpe wins The Archibald in 1996. We then follow a group of exceptional painters preparing their portraits for the 1997 Archibald Prize. This is one of the very few films where we see individual artists at work. For each artist it is a unique and very personal process. We follow Fred Cress painting playwright David Williamson, Kerrie Lester painting dancer Janet Vernon, Bill Leak painting pop star Tex Perkins, Martin Sharp painting Tiny Tim, Garry Shead painting Adam Rich a doctor and an artist, Salvatore Zofrea painting Opera singer Elizabeth Campbell, Rose McKinley painting poet les Murray, Jenny Sages painting sculptor Tom Bass and Robert Hannaford painting the scientist Paul Davies. Each of these sitters must have made a significant contribution to public life in Australia.
Begun in 1921, The Archibald portrait Prize is unique in the world, attracting over 500 entries each year from all over Australia. The judging process, which has never been filmed before is held in secret behind closed doors and is always controversial
Barry Pearce describes the furore that erupted around William Dobell’s 1944 ground-breaking portrait of Joshua Smith and how it opened the doors to the issues of modern art. What were the boundaries for an artist to challenge and how far beyond these could an artist go? Wendy Whiteley tells the story of how Brett Whiteley won the Archibald twice in the late seventies with brutally honest self portraits, that again broke new ground for the Archibald Prize.