Big return

• Fremantle artist Tessa MacKay with her hyperreal artwork Nhi.

ART lovers will get to see some stunning hyperreal portraits – one an Archibald Prize finalist – when artist Tessa MacKay makes her triumphant return to Fremantle this weekend.

A retrospective of her work from the past five years, the exhibition at PS Art Space has just three of her oil paintings on show.

That’s because they’re super detailed and huge – some over 3×2 metres – and each one took a year or more to complete.

MacKay’s latest labour of love Nhi, took almost two years.

It’s a magnificent hyperreal portrait where every wrinkle on Nhi’s face seems to hold a thousand memories. Using a photograph for reference, MacKay uses oil paints on linen or canvas, painstakingly building up the portrait day-after-day for years, with the process taking on a sort of religious devotion.

Another masterwork on show is her portrait of one of Australia’s leading Indigenous actors Trevor Jamieson (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Storm Boy).

“These huge, detailed works don’t happen fast,” says the Fremantle-based artist.

“The portrait of David Wenham was completed over thirteen months of full-time painting and this latest new work [Nhi] was closer to two years!”

Through the Looking Glass, a portrait of actor David Wenham that was a 2019 Archibald Prize finalist and the winner of the ‘Packing Room Prize’.

The painting has toured extensively throughout the Eastern States, but it is the first time it has been exhibited in public in WA.

“I’m thrilled Western Australians can finally see the portrait of David up-close, given how much remarkable attention it received over east. It’s like a homecoming,” MacKay says.

In 2021, the portrait won a poll via ABC iVIEW’s social media for the most popular Archibald painting ever, with over a quarter of a million votes cast by the public.

MacKay’s husband Roderick is a filmmaker and his debut movie The Furnace stars Wenham in the lead role. It was shot entirely in WA’s mid-west and had its global premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.

After spending so long on single artworks, MacKay is ready for a change of artistic direction.

“I love how the public responds to these huge and detailed works, but these will be the last I undertake for some time,” says the 30-year-old.

“I’m ready to evolve my practice, so I can play and experiment with ideas more freely.”

The Tessa MacKay Retrospective is at the PS Art Space on Pakenham Street in Fremantle until September 11.


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