ENTERING Suzanne Archer's art studio is a spooky affair: there are stuffed birds, snake skins, dried insects and animals skulls galore - even a dehydrated kangaroo hanging from the ceiling.
But the veteran artist's macabre collection has inspired a darkly charged self-portrait that earned her the $25,000 Dobell Prize for Drawing yesterday.
Not that she sees her trove as macabre. ''I don't find it so,'' she said. But visitors ''feel like they're visiting a museum''.
Suzanne Archer ... winner of the 2010 Dobell Prize for Drawing
Photo: Domino Postiglione
Archer's Derangement was chosen from 45 finalists among 635 entries in one of the most prestigious awards for drawing, held at the Art Gallery of NSW.
The judge, Sydney artist Alun Leach-Jones, described the image as darkly poetic and full of drama. ''There is an ambiguous narrative, alive with vivid and sinister images that are depictive, symbolic and metaphoric,'' he said.
As a three-time Dobell finalist, Archer was thrilled to finally win the acquisitive prize. ''It's always so pleasing to get into these shows but to actually win one is extraordinary,'' she said.
Archer, 64, has exhibited since the 1960s, when she migrated to Australia from England, and won the Wynne Prize in 1994. Her home studio is in Wedderburn, south-west of Sydney.
But the artist's seemingly anguished depiction of herself at the centre of Derangement is not designed to reflect inner pain or struggle. It is more her disdain for the sort of ''rather bland'' photograph-like portraits regularly seen in art prizes and her desire to evoke stirring responses.
''I really want to get some of the emotions, say from a scream or a grimace. I work with a mirror in my hand, actually contorting my face, so it's really trying to get the audience to react to the work.''
A horse's head, dead birds, a cow's skull and a kangaroo carcass were also included in Derangement.
Her fascination with expired animals stems from drawings she did in the veterinary labs of the University of Sydney in 2002. ''Often they're quite contorted and they're much more interesting poses than a live animal.''