By Maria Dunne


‘Hidden Faces’ is an exhibition of portraits by Victorian artists who have submitted their work to national portrait prizes, such as the Doug Moran, Portia Geach, Black Swan, Mortimore & Glencore Percival, and the famous Archibald. However, this exhibition is devoted to portraits that were unsuccessful or were not shown in Melbourne in these national prizes.


Based on the Salon Des Refuses culture of the late-19th century, this exhibition shows 45 of Victoria’s finest artists. It features a broad spectrum of portraits, from Layne Beachley and Rosie Batty to Nai Palm. The remarkable aspect of this gallery is that it collates a number of diverse, experimental and personal pieces that manage to truly capture each person.


To celebrate another year of this gallery the Northsider talked to local artist John Mandich, who painted the striking image of Nai Palm for this year’s Archibald. Although his work was unsuccessful in the Archibald Prize this year, it is hard to deny his incredible passion and his expressiveness in his work.


So John, what inspired you to capture Nai Palm?
It was an easy choice to paint Nai as I have known Nai for about 9 years or so. I first met her at the Evelyn Hotel where she started playing as a solo singer guitarist. I watched her grow into a world-renowned star. Her band she fronts, Hiatus Kaiyote, was nominated for a Grammy and also won the Best Jazz Album of the Year. She is charming, charismatic and has a beautiful soul.

When she first started playing at the Evelyn she would say to me, “When are you going to paint me for the Archibald Portrait Prize?” My reply was, “Your time will come.” So it did.

The hardest part was trying to get Nai in the studio for [the] final touches of the painting as she is mostly overseas doing shows. Anyhow we got it done.


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John Mandich’s portrait of Nai Palm.


How has your art transformed through the years as being an artist?
The transformation is inevitable. You will evolve as years go by and trying to find that distinctive style that people see when they see your work is a progression.


How do you identify art in Australia, especially Melbourne, as being like?
Melbourne has a large art culture with many artists working in their studios that a lot of people wouldn’t know exist until they have a major exhibition. I think Melbourne is more culturally aware of artistic diversity than any other city in Australia.


Do you find there is a change in context of your piece from the studio to the gallery?
The only change [is that] it’s opened to a greater audience, and as we all know everyone looks at art differently. The gallery just opens it up to different viewpoints.


How do you choose people for your portraiture?
For me to choose a person to paint for the Archibald is quite simple. First, I must know the subject well as you are not only painting the exterior of the person but also the interior. What I try to do is to get the inner person. The only way you can do that is if you know the person really well. I like to see them in different frames of mind. That’s when you can paint a true portrait of a person.


How important is community involvement in galleries like these?
It is important for a broad community to be involved in all art exhibitions, especially in ‘Hidden Faces’ where people can go to the exhibition free of charge in the epicenter of Melbourne. The community can compare through this exhibition the refused paintings that were entered into the Archibald prize and the national selection that travels around Australia.


Hidden Faces
8 August – 6 October
Free admission
2 Convention Centre Place
Melbourne South Wharf




Maria Dunne is a writer from North Coburg. Before writing for the Northsider she wrote freelance for The Big Issue and Buzzcuts.

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