Winter is prize and portrait time and all the entries for the ‘big three’ NSW art prizes have been assessed and the finalists have been announced (after we have gone to print).
Each year there are about 1200 entries for the Wynne and Sulman Prizes from which approximately 65 are selected and of the 900-odd entrants in the Archibald, only 45 will be hung for final judgement, so selection as a finalist is a big achievement for all artists.
While the Wynne Prize, for landscape painting or figurative sculpture, and the Sulman Prize, for genre or subject painting, are very prestigious awards, it is the Archibald Prize for portraiture that dominates the media and public attention. This was especially true last year when discussion of Newcastle artist Nigel Milsom’s outstanding winning portrait of Charles Waterstreet was all but overshadowed by the media’s obsession with the artist’s tale of sin, retribution and redemption.
Even though the Archibald is now a celebrity event where the fame of the sitter can dominate any intrinsic qualities of the paintings and mere likeness can take precedence over all other aspects of a work, it is reassuring that if there is a standout painting it will usually win the prize.
Newcastle Art Gallery has just announced the names of 35 finalists selected from over 200 entries in the Kilgour Prize, awarded for portrait and figurative painting. It is valued at $50,000 which ensures interest from artists across the country, and last year four local artists were selected. This year Peter Gardiner, Pablo Tapia, Rachel Milne and Nicola Bolton are finalists.
Unlike the Archibald, the Kilgour Prize is not so concerned with the celebrity ranking of its subjects and, as the sitters are largely unknown to the majority of the audience, recognition and likeness play diminished roles. The inclusion of figurative works further concentrates our attention on the qualities of the paintings themselves while expanding the range of potential responses.
GALLERY 139 SUBJECTS
Gallery 139’s latest exhibition, The Subject, offers a similar mix of portraits and figurative works with confident drawings by Christina Frogley and some strong portraits by well-known local artists Dino Consalvo and Lydia Miller along with Nick Ferguson who recently won the painting section of the Muswellbrook Art Prize.
The fact that most of the sitters are friends of the artists adds a personal dimension to many of these works and a risk element that is often missing when celebrity is paramount and big prize money is at stake. Unfortunately, the dark, urban nocturnes by Damien Slevin are out of place in this exhibition and do not fit with the other works. Until 16th July.
SOLO AT ART SYSTEMS
Art Systems Wickham presents the first solo show in many years from well-known local artist and art educator Aldona Zakarauskas, who was senior lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle for 30 years.
The Quiet is a deeply emotional and reflective exhibition of paintings and multimedia works laden with feelings of sadness and loss for her native Lithuania while simultaneously celebrating her people’s resilience under the rule of Tsarist then Communist Russia.
As a defiant response to the repeated attempts to obliterate their culture and predominantly Roman Catholic religion, the people erected a grove of crosses known as the Jurgaiciai Hill to commemorate those killed in numerous uprisings or in exile, and as an unambiguous symbol of their religious conviction.
Each time the authorities would destroy the crosses they would re-appear in greater numbers to the point where now over 50,000 are spreading into the valley, potent symbols of resistance and resilience.
Both the crosses themselves and this cycle of destruction and rebirth are central to this deeply melancholic exhibition where panels of granite black and funerary imagery uneasily abut richly painted floral reliefs, like 17th century Dutch vanitas paintings, meditations on the transitory nature of our existence.
Aldona Zakarauskas is represented in the Newcastle Art Gallery collection as well as many national and international collections and her painting has been highly commended in the Wynne Prize.
Until 10th July.