An Eastern-style painting of the Australian soprano is a finalist in this year’s Archibald Prize.

Sydney-based artist Apple Yin’s new portrait of Cheryl Barker is among the 41 finalists in the 2011 Archibalds. The 2.3m by 1.7m painting, entitled  Hearing Meditation, depicts the soprano in traditional Chinese dress against an oriental floral background. Holding a Chinese fan, she adopts a contemplative stance as she listens to birdsong.

For Yin, Barker was a natural choice of subject. “I was born into a musical family in China. My sisters play violin and Chinese guitar. Cheryl has played various roles in opera but one in particular caught my attention: Madama Butterfly. Here she has shown her understanding of women in Eastern cultures.”

This is the second time Yin has been selected as a finalist in Sydney’s premier portraiture prize: In last year’s proceedings she was runner-up for the People’s Choice award, having entered a portrait of Hornsby Council art director Terry English in the ancient garb of a Silk Road traveller.

Barker was approached to sit for the portrait by a friend of Yin’s in the Opera Australia chorus. From there it was a collaborative process. “When I first met with Apple she told me her ideas...