Art Gallery of New South Wales head packer Brett Cuthbertson and his packing room team have awarded the 2019 Archibald Packing Room Prize to West Australian hyperreal artist Tessa MacKay. MacKay’s hyperreal portrait is of renowned actor and producer David Wenham titled Through the looking glass. The Packing Room Prize – a cash prize of $1500 for the artist – is awarded to the best entry in the Archibald Prize as judged by the gallery staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.

Cuthbertson said he loved the work from the moment his packing room colleague Stu, brought it to his attention. “Tessa’s is a really interesting portrait – there’s a lot happening in it. I’ve been looking at it every day since it came into the Gallery. I love that your eyes are drawn to the pairing of the salt and sugar, and the glass vase in the foreground. I love the reflection of the glass and that David’s in a reflective mood too. We blokes have a lot to think about these days!” Cuthbertson said.

On hearing the news that she’d won the 2019 Packing Room Prize MacKay, a newcomer finalist, said she was thrilled. “It took a while for the news to properly land with me. I was still processing the fact that I was a finalist,” MacKay said, “Portraiture provides an opportunity for me to capture my subject’s personality, drawing the viewer’s empathy and curiosity. David’s thoughtful gaze in the middle of the work is a kind of anchor. The portrait is about stepping into David’s world. I like to think that his somewhat pensive eyes, lost in thought, are another kind of ‘looking glass’ that we’re peering into,” MacKay said.

As the subject of the portrait, Wenham said he felt privileged to sit for MacKay who he met through her husband, a writer/director. “A couple of years ago Tess asked if I would consider sitting for her. After viewing her previous portraits it was clear Tess was an immensely talented artist,” Wenham said. “Tess’s portraits are each carefully considered and not only display her supreme technical facility but also offer an insight into what fascinates or intrigues her about the subject.”

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