Local artists feature in arguably Australia's most popular art prizes

A balcony view overlooking Gymea Bay is a finalist in one of the nation's top art prizes.

Finalists of the prestigious Archibald portrait prize were announced on Thursday at the Art Gallery of NSW, along with finalists of the Wynne (landscape or figurative sculpture) and Sulman (genre, subject or mural) prizes.

This year will be the fifth time Gymea artist Marc Etherington has been a finalist in the Archibald and he is also a finalist in the Wynne.

His work Idris Murphy and his dog Wally (acrylic painting on plywood) is an Archibald finalist.

Etherington says he has loved the paintings of artist Murphy since he first saw them.

"His use of colour and form are something I am drawn to. I find myself saying "I wish I painted that!" a lot while looking at his work," Etherington said.

"I have painted Idris wearing his red-framed glasses and an Akubra hat which he has worn on his many painting trips to Fowlers Gap in north-western NSW.

''His shirt depicts his lovely golden retriever Wally.

''I constructed my own frame for the painting, which contains 18 small wooden images of Idris wearing his trademark bib-and-brace overalls in an assortment of colours.'''

Colourful creations: Marc Etherington and his wife Kate put the finishing touches to a mural they painted at the Hazelhurst Art Gallery in 2017. Picture: John Veage

Colourful creations: Marc Etherington and his wife Kate put the finishing touches to a mural they painted at the Hazelhurst Art Gallery in 2017. Picture: John Veage

Etherington only started painting 12 years ago and has worked at Hazelhurst preparing the gallery's exhibition spaces for new shows.

He has described his style of art as child-like and puts it down to the fact that he is self-taught.

Etherington, who likes nothing better than spending time with his wife and two children when he isn't busy painting his weird ideas, is also finalist in this year's Wynne Prize.

His work is titled The view from my mum and dad's place (acrylic on canvas).

''My work usually revolves around popular culture, childhood memories and everyday domestic life, mostly with a darkly humorous twist,'' he said.

''Lately I have been enjoying painting landscapes that inspire me.

''This painting is the view overlooking Gymea Bay from my parents' balcony. It's my favourite view in the world.''

Based in Bundeena, Ildiko Kovacs is a finalist in the Sulman prize for her work Menthol (oil paint, graphite and wax pencil on plywood''

''This painting comprises plywood covered with oil paint," Kovacs said. "I often use my hands to apply several layers of colour. I then draw into it with graphite and wax pencil.

"I work on the floor so I can press down onto the surface. This allows me to manoeuvre around the board as I improvise the form.

"The lines are webbed in the way they are drawn or scratched, appearing to have a primal quality that reminds me of scarification or Riji shell engravings.

Kovacs said she throws herself into each work.

Bundeena artist Ildiko Kovacs at work in her studio in 2015.

Bundeena artist Ildiko Kovacs at work in her studio in 2015.

"I am very physical. I work large, I work on a human scale, I throw myself into it, work with large gestures, and work with the rhythm of the body. And I work with rollers, not brushes."

Chris Zanko's love for capturing Illawarra architecture has seen his depiction of a Bulli home on the Princes Highway a finalists of the Wynne Prize.

Bulli: bricks and black diamonds is an acrylic on wood relief-carving.

"A lot of the buildings [I paint] aren't necessarily prominent that they're important, but they're everyday vernacular buildings that represent parts of the history of Illawarra like in mining, or around Bulli like the brickworks," the 27-year-old, who is a preparator at Hazelhurst said.

"I try not to think about the implications of whether good or bad of what could happen from it, but I'm really thankful to be included."

The Archibald carries $100,000 prize money for the winning artist with entries to be painted in the past year, from at least one live sitting.

Packing Room Prize: the portrait of actor David Wenham by Western Australian artist Tessa MacKay.

Packing Room Prize: the portrait of actor David Wenham by Western Australian artist Tessa MacKay.

The Packing Room Prize, won this year by young Western Australian artist Tessa MacKay for her painting of actor David Wenham, reflects popular sentiment but no winner has gone on to win the main prize.

Among the 51 finalists for Australia's oldest and arguably most popular art prize are leading lights of Australian contemporary art, former Archibald Prize winners Euan Macleod, Del Kathryn Barton, and Nigel Milsom.

Like Barton, Vincent Namatjira, Mirra Whale, and Tsering Hannaford were finalists for the second year in a row.

Almost a quarter of the finalists were Archibald newcomers, and most were either self-portraits or of sitters who came from the art world.

Vietnamese born artist, comedian, and author Anh Do painted artist, director and a founder of the Yellow House Artist Collective, George Gittoes who grew up in St George and lived and worked at Bundeena for many years.

Gittoes, who now lives at Werri on the south coast, said the prestige is immensely important for any young artist to be named a finalist as it helps propel their name and their work into the forefront of the art world.

"I remember when I had my first painting hung in the Sulman in about 1987," Gittoes said.

"I was thrilled to walk into Art Gallery of NSW where all the great masters are ... and suddenly for the first time see one of mine was on the wall. It's definitely a landmark moment in your life."

This year a record number of entries for the Archibald Prize were received by the gallery, numbering 919. The previous record was 884 in 2014.

Finalists in all prizes will be exhibited at the gallery from May 11 to September 8.