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This year's Archibald Prize finalists include an artist with Down syndrome: 'I can't believe it'

Digby Webster hopes to show others with disability how to fulfil their dreams through his masterful artwork.

This year's Archibald Prize finalists include an artist with Down syndrome: 'I can't believe it'
Image Source: Create_NSW / Twitter

Digby Webster has been an artist for over 10 years now. Recently, he was shortlisted as an Archibald Prize finalist for the year 2020. The Archibald Prize is an Australian portraiture art prize, generally considered the most prestigious portrait prize in Australia. In collaboration with Neil Tomkins, the pair submitted 'Ernest Brothers,' a double portrait painting the artists created of each other. Though the portraits were created separately, when they were complete, it became clear that they were meant to submit as one entry. The feat is particularly important as Webster has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. In an interview with ABC News, he said he wanted to show how people with disabilities can fulfill their dreams.


When the Archibald Prize told Webster that his painting had been entered into the list of finalists, he simply could not believe it was true. "I cannot believe I am up in this room with these guys," he shares in a video of the interview with ABC News. "They are very supportive." Finalists for the award must display their artwork in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Their artwork is also judged by the public, who have the opportunity to vote for their favorite piece of art for the People's Choice Award following the public viewing. Webster said his partner had visited the gallery and made sure to vote for him.


For his entry, Webster painted a portrait of Tomkins, who he says has been instrumental in his art career. Tomkins is a local artist who first collaborated with webster on a ‘Starry Night’ mural at The Bearded Tit Bar artists residency in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. In addition to submitting portraits together for the Archibald Prize, the duo has an ongoing work relationship. Tomkins is traditionally a landscape artist, which comes through in his portrait of his friend. "Digby produced his work of me in one sitting, whereas I did many sketches," Tomkins stated. "I’m predominantly a landscape painter so the process of painting a portrait was a little less natural to me than to Digby."


He added, "The way the colors play with each other, although not specifically planned, was so powerful we couldn’t separate them... Collaborating has always been a strong basis of our creative connection and has brought a lot of joy in our friendship." The double portrait depicts their friendship, which began in 2017, and was named 'Ernest Brothers' because they share a common middle name. "Digby and I share the same middle name, Ernest, and as we were painting each other for this prize it seemed like a good title," Tomkins explained. "It gives a little more background to our friendship and, although it’s a coincidence, we have a lot of similarities."


The portraits definitely are a metaphor for friendship and shared expressions. When asked why he does art, Webster responded, "Well, art is a very special thing to have in your body, to express. I just want to be a person who shows people with disability how they follow their footsteps, how they fulfill their dreams. By making movies, art, dance, or anything else... Just make it."



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