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Solar panel portrait of Saul Griffith named finalist in 2022 Archibald Prize

Solar panel portrait of Saul Griffith named finalist in 2022 Archibald Prize

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A Jude Rae portrait of Australian scientist, engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, energy analyst and author Saul Griffith has been listed as a finalist in the 2022 Archibald Prize. 

The portrait, titled “The Big Switch”, started to take form when Rae heard Griffith speaking on the radio in March 2022 about the big switch to electricity for technologies that still run on combustion, a la fossil fuels. Griffith argued, as he has in pv magazine Australia, that electricity from the riches of renewable resources with which Australia is endowed would cut emissions and help our economy. 

Rae then contacted Griffith’s San Francisco office in the hope of painting his portrait for the Archibald Prize should he return to Australia, only to find that Griffith and his family had recently relocated from the US to Wollongong, NSW. 

A work in progress – a photograph taken by Rae in her Redfern studio during the painting of her “Highly Commended” Archibald Prize finalist.

Image: Jude Rae

Interestingly, Rae’s portrait is a mix of oil on linen and solar panels. The idea was to create a “triptych for global warming”, a triptych being a three-panelled picture or carving, think Giotto’s 1330 “Stefaneschi Altarpiece” or Francis Bacon’s 1969 “Three Studies of Lucien Freud.” 

Rae made wonderful use of two solar panels to buffet the portrait of Griffith in the centre. Rae manages to capture a look of entreaty on Griffith’s face that lacks nothing in assurance. After all, when Griffith says “Electrify Everything”, he isn’t forwarding an outlandish idea, but rather the most reasoned and logical decision Australia could make, if only its politicians would flick the switch. 

“My portraits are always collaborations,” Rae told Art Gallery of NSW, “but this one went to the next level. We only had a month and the solar panels were quite an adventure. When we tried to cut them with a water jet, the toughened glass fractured but they were so beautiful we went with it.” 

Jude Rae’s “The big switch” – portrait of Dr Saul Griffith.
Oil on linen, solar panels
209.8 x 239.7 cm (overall)

Image: Art Gallery of NSW

“Like this portrait,” Rae continued, “Australia’s climate policy is now going right down to the wire. It is crazed and cracked but the recipe is simple – electrify everything with renewables. We have to stop having debates, develop policies and hand the plans to engineers who are ready and waiting to get it done. Like Saul, they want to plug Australia into an abundant future.” 

The 2022 Archibald Prize was won by Blak Douglas’ portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens titled “Moby Dickens”. Rae’s entry was recognised as “Highly Commended”, the third such classification Rae has received in consecutive years. 

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