An emotional and confronting painting of a man engaged in auto asphyxiation has won the $50,000 Kilgour Prize at Newcastle Art Gallery.
Auto asphyxiation is defined, in part, as a state of asphyxia intentionally induced (as by smothering or strangling oneself) so as to heighten sexual arousal.
The winning work, titled Between you and me2017, by 29-year-old Sydney artist Cameron Stead, was announced at the exhibit opening to crowd of more than 500 on Friday evening.
The artwork is painted on latex, an unusual surface for painting, and a material subject to degradation over time.
Judges called it “a brave painting that is challenging, temporary in nature and honest”.
Newcastle Herald art critic Jill Stowell said the judges went for “drama, not drawing”, and acknowledged it would not have been her winning choice.
The winning artwork is non-acquisitive.
Stead, a student at the National Art School in Sydney, attended the Hunter School for the Performing Arts and studied at the University of Newcastle through 2011.
“I think I was in a little bit of shock,” he said of learning he had won the valuable prize.
The artwork is a self-portrait. “I did semi suffocate myself to really feel the loss of air,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend people put a bag over their head.”
Stead called those 30 seconds “a traumatic experiment – it was not a sexual experience”.
The Herald warns readers against trying this at home, but the artist had no regrets about his finished work.
“It is part of the younger artist’s job to break from convention and show something new, to get people to think about art and what art can be,” he said.
The three Kilgour judges – Newcastle Art Gallery manager Lauretta Morton, Queensland University of Technology lecturer Charles Robb, and Tony Oates, curator of exhibitions at Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University – were unanimous in their selection.
“The painting is intense,” they noted in their judges’ comments. “There is a skilful marriage of subject matter and materials.”
Morton said there was “quite a bit of arm wrestling” in the final judging. “But at the end of the day, we were all really happy with the choice,” she said.
Stead is keen on exploring experimental art projects – the painting was one of his first on latex (he said it has a “fetish quality”).
“I suppose the painting tackles the two big subjects of death and sex,” he said. “Some artists would argue those are the only two subjects in art.”
The Kilgour Prize exhibition with all 30 finalists’ works runs to October 15.
The 2017 Kilgour Prize finalists are Sally Anderson, Michael Bell, Ann Maree Clark, Jerome Dobinson, John Earle, Yvonne East, John Edwards, Anna Glynn, Lucas Grogan, Tanya Jaceglav, Tony Lloyd, Lauren May, Frankie Morgan, John Morris, Rebecca Murray, Adam Oste, Lori Pensini, Tom Phillips, Liam Power, Jordan Richardson, Paul Ryan, Nigel Sense, John Skillington, Tony Slater, Cameron Stead, Robin Lennox Stewart, Mark Tweedie, John R Walker, Chee Yong, and Caroline Zilinsky.
The six Hunter artists among the finalists include Michael Bell, John Earle, Lucas Grogan, John Morris, Rebecca Murray and Liam Power.
The first Kilgour Prize was won by Nicholas Harding in 2006. Dallas Bray, of Newcastle, won it in 2008 and 2010. After a brief hiatus, the prize recommenced as an annual competition, with Alan Jones winning 2014 and Janelle Thomas winning in 2015. Newcastle artist Peter Gardiner won the prize in 2016 with his work, Origin/Landscape.
When the Kilgour became an annual award the prize money was been boosted to $50,000 for the winner. The winner of the People’s Choice, voted by the public, receives $5000.
Jack Noel Kilgour, who bequeathed the funds for the creation of the prize, was an Australian artist known for his academic approach to landscape and portrait painting. He died in 1987.
The public can vote for the People’s Choice in the Kilgour at Newcastle Art Gallery or online at the Newcastle Herald’s website theherald.com.au from August 4 until September 27.