‘Art is a beautiful way to engage people’
Archibald Prize Finalist

‘Art is a beautiful way to engage people’

"There are many incredible people in the exhibition and to be up there with them feels very special."

Yvette Coppersmith & Ella Simons. Photo: Mel Savage
Yvette Coppersmith (left) and Ella Simons. Photo: Mel Savage

Jewish artist Yvette Coppersmith’s painting of climate activist and high school student Ella Simons has been shortlisted for the 2022 Archibald prize.

Coppersmith told The AJN that is it a “privilege to be a finalist in the Archibald”.

“It’s the only exhibition in Australia which receives such a wide audience. I feel so happy that this year’s winner, Blak Douglas, was addressing both climate justice and First Nations justice through his powerful portrait of artist Karla Dickens,” she said.

“These are the conversations we need to have right now as a nation, and art is a beautiful way to engage people.”

The piece, titled Ella Simons Seated, captures Simons at the age of 15, when she had just returned from a trip to Milan, where she was the Australian delegate at the Youth4Climate summit, ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. Simons was the youngest of 400 international delegates at the conference, including the world-renowned Greta Thunberg.

Coppersmith – a Melbourne artist, past Archibald winner and six-time finalist – said she met Simons, who is also Jewish, when she was 14 and immediately sensed her vibrant energy. “I wanted to represent someone who is vibrant and inspiring, and bring the presence of her generation to the Archibald,” Coppersmith said.

“I had a couple of sittings with Ella after her return. We looked for props and outfits in her bedroom. Her outfit ties in with the background, creating visual coherence and elegance. I chose to create a calm, quiet tone for the painting, to amplify the seriousness of Ella and her message,” Coppersmith said.

Yvette Coppersmith, 2022. Ella Simons seated, oil on jute, 107cm x 87cm. Image courtesy the artist and Art Gallery of NSW.

Simons told The AJN that she feels “incredibly honoured” to have been painted by Coppersmith and “to be given this platform”.

“There are many incredible people in the exhibition and to be up there with them feels very special,” she added.

Simons also shared, “If it wasn’t for those that believe in me like Yvette and my dear family and friends, I would not be where I am today. I just want to thank Yvette again for this incredible opportunity and for all young girls, and people to know that they have a seat at the table.”

In 2018 Coppersmith took home the top prize at the Archibald for her painting Self Portrait, after George Lambert. She was the 10th female winner in the award’s 97-year history.

Coppersmith said, “This painting is a form of protest. It transmits Ella’s presence and wakes us up to this moment in human evolution and the window of opportunity to abate the trajectory of climate change.”

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