The Histrionic Wayfarer - Analysis


The Histrionic Wayfarer (after Bosch), by Tim Storrier

The Histrionic Wayfarer (‘Wayfarer’) was the 2012 Archibald Prize winner, a $75,000 prize awarded annually to an Australian portrait. Wayfarer was a controversial choice considering it was faceless, but Storrier regarded the identity (himself) was ‘made clear’ by the painting. Storrier included a scribble of his own head on the piece of paper flying to the Smudge’s right (Smudge is the dog).

The major theme behind Wayfarer is of the artist searching for himself – his identity, the ‘I’.

The Medium

Wayfarer is an appropriation of a 1510 painting of The Wayfarer by Hieronymus Bosch, but while it is based on a traditional painting evoking biblical themes it is also modern in the way it challenges the audience’s ideas of what a portrait is meant to be. This fits well with the overall idea behind Wayfarer; looking for something that might be abstract, formless, tough to nail down. The way Storrier pushes the boundaries of what a portrait is, for example by painting a portrait of a man with no physical features of his own, parallels the wayfarer’s own search. It is difficult to say what the identity is – is it our bodies? Our minds? Both? Some immortal, unbreakable soul? The wayfarer in the painting is thus caught up in a search for what the ‘self’ is, and the postmodern interpretation of portraiture parallels the doubt in this task.

The other aspect of medium, as mentioned, is that the text is based upon another painting. The original Wayfarer depicts a character in the foreground moving towards the right but looking left. To his right are cattle in an enclosure (pos

sibly reflecting virtuous and dignified life, or home) but to his left is (presumably) a whorehouse (representing debauchery). This element of decision, choice and multiple pathways is also present in Storrier’s Wayfarer; the wayfarer is moving towards the left but Smudge is looking right.

  1. Do you think there is a particular formula for discovery, whether people follow it by design or by accident, or can discoveries happen in many different ways? Here the wayfarer is very much on the lookout; he’s prepared, his pose indicates searching and he’s on some sort of journey. Does discovery require us to be active and vigilant or can discovery be passive and thrust upon us?

  2. Consider the above question about whether discoveries happen in the same way or in different ways. Does the style of the portrait, with its emphasis on challenging traditional conventions and ways of thinking about portraiture, suggest discovery is an intensely personal thing, different for everyone in their own unique way?

  3. The wayfarer depicted is on a journey to discover himself and who he is. Is this what all discoveries come down to, in the end? Some may be physical, some may teach us about others and some may involve new nuggets of knowledge, but ultimately is discovery always about finding yourself and your place in the world?

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