The Art Gallery of NSW today announced the finalists for the Archibald, Australia’s most famous art prize. From over 900 entries, only 52 were selected. Among them was IAVA’s President, artist Melissa Ritchie.
Melissa painted a portrait of Sydney comedian Rhys Nicholson. After contacting him on Facebook, Melissa arranged a sitting with Rhys before one of his stand up gigs at Sydney’s The Comedy Store.
Rhys is known for his dapper style and his vibrant red hair. His stand up often touches on growing up gay in Newcastle and the inequality of marriage in Australia. Melissa painted Rhys next to an oversized match box, symbolic of his career. The “redheads” logo was change to look like Rhys, a “portrait within a portrait”. “The matches themselves represent words, but the fire they produce represent the hurtful, bullying words, that Rhys and many LGBT youth have been unfortunately subjected to at some point in their life,” says Melissa. “In this painting, Rhys has taken ownership of those sharp tonged words, now using them in his vibrant career. He owns the words, he is the smart mouth.”
Born in Georgia, USA in 1978, Melissa moved to Australian as a young child and grew up on the Illawarra South Coast. Melissa has established her career in Advertising over the past 16 years, her understanding of graphic design and advertising has very much influenced her artist style, often using logos, taglines and symbology in her work.
Melissa is also President of the Illawarra Association for the Visual Arts (IAVA), appointed in February this year (2016).
As a working mother with two young sons under 10, Beau and Jack, life is very busy. But with the support husband Jaye, Melissa dedicates every spare minute to painting.
It is still hard to believe, she only started portrait painting in 2012. After her first solo exhibition at local gallery Art Arena, Melissa publicly announced that she was setting herself a 5 year goal to become an Archibald finalist by the time she reached 40 years of age. That was three years ago, and she is only 38!
Melissa has been a finalist in Bega’s Shirley Hannan Portrait Prize in 2014, Perth’s Black Swan Portraiture Prize in 2014, Newcastle’s Kilgour Prize in 2015, Sydney’s Portia Geach Memorial Art Award in 2015 and Townsville’s Percival Portrait Prize in 2016. This is her first Archibald Prize.
“The Archibald is the Holy Grail for artists and it is an absolute honour to have been selected” says Melissa.
The winner is announced on July 15. The exhibition runs from July 16 – October 9, before embarking on a National regional tour.