Viraj Tandon, 12, is back at the Young Archie this year

Viraj’s sketch of his grandparents is shortlisted at Young Archie children’s portrait competition

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When Sydney-based artist Margaret Ackland got to know that 12-year-old Viraj Tandon is a 2024 Young Archie finalist, she messaged him, “That’s amazing, although I am not surprised.”

Ackland has known Viraj for some time, and has occasionally mentored the budding artist.

Having been a finalist once before, for the 2024 Young Archie, Viraj picked his grandparents as subjects.

“Nanu and Nani are the most important people in the family,” the young artist explained when asked about his choice.

Quite differently from his last portrait which was filled with colour, his work this year is a sketch, created with pen and pencil, and light highlights.

“It was a gift I made for my grandparents for their 60th wedding anniversary last year,” Viraj described. “It was made out of a photograph of them from a family holiday, when we all went to Port Stephens. Nani usually is always smiling, but in this portrait she looked angry, or sad. So I changed her expression.”

Young Archie
Viraj’s grandparents Dr and Mrs Aulakh (Source: Supplied)

The portrait took pride of place at his grandparents’ gala wedding anniversary celebration with friends and family.

“Many people came to me to say they loved it,” Viraj beamed.

Later the portrait found a prominent spot at his grandparents’ home.

When the Young Archie came by, Viraj’s dad Rohit Tandon knew this was the one to submit.

“We borrowed it back from Nanu and Nani,” he laughed, adding, “When I first saw the sketch I remember being quite amazed. I’m not overplaying it as a parent, but it’s remarkable in its detail and expressions. I was actually quite optimistic about it being shortlisted.”

Viraj now has a treasured collection of portraits of all family members, including extended family who live in India.

A Year 7 student at Sydney Grammar School, Viraj explained he has moved away from acrylics and Indian mythology, his favourites for some time.

“I’m enjoying realism and pencil sketching,” he said with a maturity beyond his age. “I work with fineline pens. I’ve done a series on the landmarks of Sydney – QVB, HB, Cahill Expressway, Kirribilli.”

His dad chimed in, “Check out his Cahill Expressway – it’s his most detailed piece, a 180-degree view, covering Circular Quay, Art Gallery of NSW, Harbour Bridge, Luna Park and Opera House.”


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A post shared by Mandeep Aulakh (@virajs_artwork)

Viraj has clearly been busy with his art since his last Young Archie in 2021, honing and polishing his gift – even becoming a surprise winner at the Wollahara Art Contest last year.

“There were over 90 entries, mostly all of them adults, some even professional artists,” Mum Mandeep described. “Judging was blind, and when they called his name out, they couldn’t believe an 11-year-old rocked up to collect!” 2024 Young archie

Meanwhile his prowess at art is well-recognised at Viraj’s school.

Mandeep revealed, “As a Year 6 student last year at the Edgecliff campus, he had made a sketch of his school facade, which the headmaster loved. It became the front cover of the invite for end-of-year dinner. When the College St principal saw it, he said make us one too!”

Viraj Tandon Young Archie
Viraj with his principal (Source: Supplied)

Amongst the artists Viraj lists as influences, are Australian artist Ken Done, from who he has received a personal message too.

“I love his colours and techniques,” Viraj said. “I also follow Vincent Namatjira. Among Indian masters I like Manjit Bawa and Husain.”

But it is Margaret Ackland who holds a special place in his heart, and not just for the encouraging comments she drops on his Instagram page. (Viraj was thrilled to learn she herself is at this year’s Archibald – painted by artist Kean Onn Sea.) Viraj 2024 Young archie

“She invited me to her studio at Alexandria, spending an hour explaining techniques for sketching, shading, brush strokes, and water colours.”

Perhaps he might pick her as his subject for next year’s Young Archie.

Young Archie, a portrait competition for children runs concurrently with the Archibald Prize, Australia’s most renowned portrait competition, at the Art Gallery of NSW.

READ ALSO: Jasnoor Kaur, 14, at the 2024 Young Archie

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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