Giles Alexander

Space or bust (portrait of Sam Leach)

oil and resin on linen
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Sam Leach – the subject of Giles Alexander’s portrait – won last year’s Archibald Prize, with a portrait of comedy rock star Tim Minchin, as well as the Wynne Prize.

‘Sam and I are good buddies and conceptually and aesthetically we have a lot in common,’ says Alexander. ‘We both reference old world art and use high-gloss resin on traditional oil paintings. We are also both interested in science and history, which we examine in our art practice. I was really happy for Sam winning the Archibald last year. We had breakfast the morning after so I decided to get in quick and asked him there and then if he’d be my next victim.’

Alexander was a finalist in last year’s Archibald Prize with a complex, allegorical portrait of Professors Ross Garnaut and Martin Green. ‘It was quite a serious work that tackled the weighty subject of climate change so I wanted to do something light-hearted this year,’ he says.

‘I decided to go back to what is perhaps the primordial portrait – the bust – and to combine that historical reference with a more futuristic, sci-fi bent. I’m currently working on an exhibition about man’s search for habitable planets and what that says about how we see ourselves, our place in the universe and our relationship with Earth.

‘One of the main areas of interest for both Sam and I is the illusion of space: painting a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface – one of the major challenges tackled by Western painting since the Renaissance. So I thought I’d take that one step further and paint deep space with Sam floating around like a Roman emperor having won both the Archibald and the Wynne.’