From paintings to photography, National Portrait Gallery’s prize season begins | HerCanberra

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From paintings to photography, National Portrait Gallery’s prize season begins

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Whether you prefer your portraits of the classic paint-on-paper variety or in photographic form, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has unveiled finalists in two of the most significant portrait prizes in Australia.

So, no matter your preference, now is the time to soak up some of the most arresting images of the year.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) is one of the most popular photographic competitions in the country. Since its establishment in 2007, the much-anticipated annual event offers substantial cash and equipment prizes for professional, amateur and aspiring Australian photographers.

Flora and Fauna, Giara: White Cockatoo, 2021 Luther Cora. Courtesy of the artist.

But if you’d rather observe portraiture in more classical painted form, then the prestigious Darling Portrait Prize is also running at the NPG over the same period.

The biennial event honours the legacy of Mr L Gordon Darling AC CMG who was instrumental in establishing the National Portrait Gallery of Australia—and nurtures the art of Australian portrait painting. The Darling Portrait Prize offers a generous $75,000 cash prize for the winner, in addition to Highly Commended, Art Handlers’ Award and People’s Choice award.

NPG Director Karen Quinlan and fellow judges Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery London, and Clothilde Bullen, Head of Indigenous Programs at the Art Gallery of Western Australia have selected 39 finalists for the 2022 exhibition which will be on display until 9 October.

2020, 2021 Jaq Grantford

Melbourne artist Jaq Grantford has been awarded the Darling Portrait Prize for her self-portrait. Titled 2020, the portrait captured her ‘mixed feelings’ about the pandemic-enforced lockdowns, using an incredible amount of detail to convey the confusion she felt about the time period: concern for others and the relief at the uninterrupted time to focus on painting.

Grantford was commended for the unusual composition and the sensitivity she captured —particularly the hands covering her mouth, a gentle nod to the experiences of mask-wearing.

Sabine Desrondaux – Woman of Letters, 2021 Tony Sowersby.

Karen said the judges were impressed by the diversity of approaches, subjects and artistic styles presented from the pool of almost 600 entrants.

“We approach the Darling Prize democratically, with the idea that artists of all career stages, working across genres and artistic styles, are invited to present portraits of any and all Australians. Sitters and artists are not expected to be well-known—what we are looking for are exceptional artistic depictions of our wide and varied community.

“The inaugural 2020 exhibition offered a broad picture of the faces and characters that make up contemporary Australian life, and we were able to acquire several pieces for the NPG collection, including Anthea de Silva’s winning portrait of dance maven Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, and a portrait of writer Tim Winton by Sally Robinson, amongst others.” The 2022 Darling Portrait Prize finalists are listed here.

Siegi, 2020 Steph Connell. Courtesy of the artist.

Wayne Quilliam’s portrait Silent Strength 2021, depicting Aurukun man Eric Yunkaporta in ceremonial head-wear, has won the 2022 National Photographic Portrait. The finalists are listed here.

Quilliam is a leading Indigenous photographic artist, curator and cultural advisor and describes the portrait as like capturing Mother Earth.  “In its purest essence, the evolution of culture connects us to Mother Earth.  My role as a storyteller continues to evolve and this capture is akin to a trickle of water merging into a small stream then into the ocean. This image of Eric Yunkaporta from Aurukun is Culture”.

Silent Strength, 2021 Wayne Quilliam. Courtesy of the artist.

In making their decision, the judging panel—award-winning press photographer Nick Moir together with Sandra Bruce, the National Portrait Gallery’s Director of Collection and Exhibitions and Associate Curator Rebecca Ray—said Quilliam’s portrait was a work of immense power and beauty.

“Everything about this portrait is exceptional.  The composition, the contrast, the richness of the colours in the ochres and feathers, and also the sense of pride the subject is portraying – all of these layers and details carry such power in connecting the subject and his story with the audience.”

Sandra Bruce said this year’s NPPP never fails to deliver a range of emotions. “Australia is a country with myriad faces, and as we continue to live in disruptive times, this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize offers a sweeping view across the nation’s experience, one that reminds us that our lives continue on regardless of wider circumstances.”

“Australia is a country with myriad faces, and as we continue to live in disruptive times, this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize offers a sweeping view across the nation’s experience, one that reminds us that our lives continue on regardless of wider circumstances.”

Two works to keep an eye out for are the winners of the Prizes’ Art Handlers Awards—selected by the team responsible for looking after the NPG’s collection and hanging the exhibitions as their favourite works.

Weight of the Mind’s Periapt, 2021 Jane Allan.

Jane Allan’s portrait of her carer Warren, titled Weight of the Mind’s Periapt 2021, won the 2022 Darling Portrait Prize Art Handler’s Award. NPG Collection Manager Maria Ramsden and Collection Administrator Renee Joyce said,

“One of the rare downsides of working with art every day is you can become desensitised to the sheer beauty and power of works of art.  Occasionally a work is able to remind you of this, by drawing you in and letting you relish in the pleasure, curiosity and joy that art can offer.  Weight of the Mind’s Periapt was that work for us.”

Weight of the Mind’s Periapt, 2021 Jane Allan.

Adam Haddrick’s portrait of Indigenous elder Cordy, titled Cordy in the Clouds 2021, won the 2022 National Photographic Portrait Prize Art Handlers Award.  NPG Collection Officers Jess Kemister and Jacob Potter were mesmerised by Adam Haddrick’s portrait of Cordy, saying the photo “captures a quiet and still moment, conveying a sense of calm and the peaceful energy of the subject.  You can look at this work for a long time.”

Finalists for the Darling Portrait Prize and the National Photographic Portrait Prize are on display from Saturday 25 June to Sunday 9 October.

Feature image: The Shuttle, 2021 Andrew Rovenko. Courtesy of the artist.

The Essentials

What: 2022 Prize Season at the National Portrait Gallery
When: 25 June to 9 October.
Tickets: $15 adults, $12 concession, available here. Bookings essential with tickets granting access to both prize exhibitions.

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