Looking out, looking in


In selecting the theme of portraiture to mark its 90th anniversary, Manly Art Gallery & Museum is tapping into a pandemic-inspired zeitgeist in which self-contemplation and questions of artistic identity come into sharp focus.

Portraits Project is made up of three sections. Chief among these is a series of 15 self-portraits by artists with links to Sydney’s Northern Beaches, including Guy Maestri, Reg Mombassa, Wendy Sharpe and Blak Douglas. Alongside this, Manly-born photographer Greg Weight has produced 22 portraits of Northern Beaches artists in situ in their studio—an intimate but playful collection of images depicting artists who work across various mediums. The third section is works from the gallery’s collection that express a theme of ‘the beach’.

“We have not held an exhibition exclusively devoted to portraiture for many years,” says senior curator Katherine Roberts, “so it was timely and turned out to be topical, given the times of studio lockdown, and the opportunity for introspection and reflection on the nature of artistic expression. “The self-portrait is a powerful tool for artists to reflect on themselves in the world and for the audience to understand the world of the artist more deeply.”

The exhibition is also a challenge to some popular misconceptions about the Manly and Northern Beaches community, which goes beyond those well-heeled residents in beachside mansions (and the fact that this was, of course, ex-prime minister Tony Abbott’s electorate).

“The Northern Beaches is vibrant and diverse, contrary to many people’s perception of it as focussed solely on surf culture,” says Roberts. “The high concentration of artists living here now attests to its peacefulness, the unique quality of the light, and sense of connectedness in a burgeoning artistic community.”

Portraits Project
Manly Art Gallery & Museum
7 August—18 October

This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith