Blak Douglas’ Winner of the Archibald Prize 2022 portrait prize with his of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens says the painting is a metaphor for the disastrous floods that hit northern NSW in early 2022. Its title references the 1851 novel Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Douglas says, ‘Karla is Moby – a strong, prized figure pursued by foreign combatants.’
‘The story of Noah’s Ark comes to mind,’ says Douglas. ‘One would think that a devoutly religious prime minister might take significantly more note of the community’s desperate call for assistance.’
He says that the leaking buckets in the portrait serve as a cryptic acknowledgement of the commissions that many commercial galleries take on artworks sold, which range from 10 to 50 percent
This goes to show the dangers of artist talking about their work. The parallels that Douglas draws are confusing.
Moby Dick was a white whale. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this painting to suggest anything white, let alone a white whale. The allusion is simply confusing. It is confusing on two more levels, there is no Captain Ahab and there does not appear to be an ocean.
Even without this description, painting is confusing. The subject, who was holding two leaky buckets of brown water, glares angrily at the viewer. Clearly, there is some betrayal implied by the leaky buckets. The aboriginal design of the woman’s clothing indicates the historical nature of her anger and the futility of redress trying to empty a lake with two leaky buckets.
If this allegorical Interpretation is correct, then this portrait is a distinctly political statement.
But the politics is confused. If it’s about the politics of the delays in bringing help to the victims of the Lismore floods, then it is being confused with messages about Moby Dick, Noah’s Ark and number of other peripheral, but important, issues like commissions on aboriginal art (leaky buckets).
Is it a good portrait? Not in the mind of this critic.