TAKE A GUESS: Myall 107's most intriguing exhibition has arrived.
TAKE A GUESS: Myall 107's most intriguing exhibition has arrived.

Dalby gallery houses painting that stumped the Prime Minister

IT MIGHT be one of the most minimalist artworks to ever cross the threshold of the Myall 107 gallery, but Martin Shaw’s Three Well-Known Australians has been the source of a lot of confusion for its viewers for nearly 40 years.

Dubbed the Olympic Torch of artworks, the artwork depicts three abstract-looking people who are supposedly “well-known” in the Australian public.

Who are they? That’s up to the audience to decide.

The artwork has toured the country for 37 years alongside a “yearbook”, which allows anyone who views the painting to place guesses as to who they think is depicted in the artwork.

Throughout the years the art has stumped everone from Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The inspiration for the artwork was the Sydney-based artist’s experience in market research, and doing part time work with struggling artists.

“One of the things you do in market research is you ask people about the product, and you ask people what age they are, what occupation, whereabouts you live,” Mr Shaw said.

“And that’s where I got the idea to ask people to guess who the three Australians are and record their opinions in the yearbooks.

“What people write down in the book becomes like a portrait of Australia.”

The artwork has toured around the country since the 1980s, and now Myall 107 will be its home until August 21, along with letters of those who have submitted guesses, and the yearbooks containing opinions of those who have viewed the piece.

TAKE A GUESS: Myall 107's most intriguing exhibition has arrived.
TAKE A GUESS: Myall 107's most intriguing exhibition has arrived.

“It’s like the torch relay in the Olympic Games,” Mr Shaw said.

“Instead of a torch that goes around Australia, it’s a painting that goes around Australia.

“And instead of lining the streets and clapping and cheering, you place your bets on who you think the three Australians are like you would do in the Melbourne Cup.

“And instead of 100 days when it goes around Australia once leading up to the Olympic Games, this painting does a much slower, 10 year circuit of Australia and continues for many generations.”

Mr Shaw began writing to high profile Australians between 1994 and 2007 encouraging them to take their guesses.

Mr Shaw said the most common guess for the man in blue was Ned Kelly.

Mr Shaw likened the guessing game to the Melbourne Cup – some viewers spent days analysing the image before placing an educated guess, and others spent only seconds.

The idea behind the painting, however, is not for a viewer to succeed in guessing who is in the painting, but rather to create an image of Australia and its people.

“When we think of a portrait we think of a painting, or a sculpture, or a photograph,” Mr Shaw said.

“This portrait is in the pages of the yearbook.”

The artwork itself is accompanied by 224 of the 240 letters Mr Shaw has received from viewers, and multiple yearbooks with plenty of empty pages to encourage locals to place their guesses.

As for when the identities of the subjects will be revealed, Mr Shaw said the answer would stay with him forever.

Without the speculation and confusion, the project would be obsolete according to the artist.

“That’s the key to the project,” he said.

“It’s like a magician. A magician should never tell how he does his tricks.

“That’s the same with my project. If I tell anyone who the real Australians are, you don’t get those recordings in the yearbook.

“If I tell anyone who the three Australians are, or who I intended, you won’t get these guesses.

“What people are actually doing is they’re writing down who they think they are and taking a guess, expecting an answer.

“I’m the loose screw that keeps it all together.”

Three Well-Known Australians is available in Myall 107 until August 21.


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