Our Ghostly Crew

Michael Vale (Artist)

Research output: Non-textual formCommissioned or Visual ArtworkResearch


Research Background
Michael Vale’s painting practice centres around the challenge of contemporizing painting skills often associated with centuries-old painting approaches such as those of the ‘old masters’. Vale’s concern is with figurative painting that explores atmosphere, composition and allegory which he views as potentially antithetical to much contemporary painting. Our Ghostly Crew was Vale’s entrant in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, an award that seeks to encourage excellence in contemporary Australian portraiture.

Research Contribution
The work depicts the artist, his filmmaker wife Donna McRae, and their dog, gathered in an apocalyptic landscape. Surrounded by a crew of skeletal and mummified onlookers, McRae is the central focus. Her fantastical headpiece and dramatic stage-lighting draw attention to the award-winning feminist director acknowledging and celebrating her inclusion in the parallel universe that many women in creative industries must operate. Like many of the works of this three-time Archibald finalist, the portrait extends Vale’s investigation into ‘gothic absurdism’, a term he coined to describe his explorations into surrealism and theatre of the absurd. The work is part portrait, part fantasy and interweaves high and low art, gravitas and pop, humour and horror to create a dreamlike narrative.

Research Significance
The long running Doug Moran National Portrait Prize is Australia’s richest portrait prize. Our Ghostly Crew was a 2021 joint winner awarding Vale $100,000 in prize money. The painting was acquired by the Moran Arts Foundation and featured in leading art publication Art Collector as well as national newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Guardian.

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