Alice Springs artists dominated the shortlist in the annual Portrait of a Senior Territorian Art Award, held locally for the first time since its inception in Darwin in 1999.
The opening on Friday at the Araluen Arts Centre was made especially poignant by the many tributes to Scottish-born, longtime Alice Springs artist, Iain Campbell, who passed away in late February. He was twice a past winner of this award.
Friday’s tributes included being on the judges’ short-list for In search of lost art works (above) but also a beautiful rendition in Gaelic of the Scottish lilt, “Bheir me o”, by the combined choral groups, The Splinters (women) and The Shavings (men), who each specialise in song traditions of the northern hemisphere.
Like so many love songs, “Bheir me o” evokes loss and longing for the absent loved one: “When I’m lonely, dear white heart, / Black the night or wild the sea, / By love’s light my foot finds / The old pathway to thee.”, repeating the refrain, “Sad am I without thee”. There were many tear-filled eyes on Friday.
Judges of this year’s prize were Russell Goldflam, eminent Alice-based lawyer; Marlene Rubuntja, Arrernte artist and winner of the inaugural Vincent Lingiari Art Award; and Darwin-based photographer Therese Ritchie.
The judges kept the audience deliciously in suspense as first Mr Goldflam described the qualities of each work in their final short-list of six, and then Ms Rubuntja, with extended, hilarious dramatic pauses, announced the third- and second- placed works, and finally the winning work.
Here we will do the same. Following are the judges’ comments, more or less as delivered by Russell Goldflam:-
I was delighted to be invited to be a judge, honoured to be on a panel with two eminent Territory artists – Therese Ritchie from Darwin and Marlene Rubuntja from Alice Springs – and privileged to be presented with such a delicious feast, not just a feast of art, but, more importantly, a spread of characters, of people.
We pondered over and perambulated amongst the 33 portraits on show, and, before Marlene pronounces our judgment by announcing the $7,000 Acquisition Award, the $2,000 Second Prize and the $500 Third Prize, I want to say a few words on behalf of the judging panel about six of the best. I won’t steal Marlene’s thunder, so I’ll mention these works in alphabetical order of the artist, to keep you guessing.
Iain Campbell – Iain’s beautiful, haunting work, all the more poignant when viewed, as we all now do, through a veil of tears following his very recent death, is a portrait of the artist, by the artist, as a young man. Indeed, as a series of young men. Even as his life was slipping away, Iain could clearly see the picture of himself he carried around in his head, the picture of himself as he was when he became a man. All us seniors, I think, carry an image around of ourselves in our flowering youth, the part of ourselves that forgot to grow up, and forgot to grow old.
Janelle Fisher – The face of Palmerston champion of the arts Pam Merington-Norman shines with gentle radiance in Janelle Fisher’s immaculately executed painting. Janelle has captured her subject without resort to props or tricks or gimmicks. Here she is, in a plain red dress against a drab grey wall, lighting up the world with her warm, soft, simple smile.
Blake Kendall and MK Turner – These two artists, one white and vigorous and young, the other Indigenous and frail and elderly, worked together to make this composite of Arrernte luminary MK Turner. This is what Marlene said to me as we admired this extraordinary work: “She makes me think about all the Aboriginal people who are strong. She makes young people think about pmere and country – the colours are like you’re imagining a dream.” For those of us who know MK, this work goes straight to the heart.
Angus McIvor – A tall, thin, quirky, cheeky picture of a tall, thin, quirky, cheeky bloke, David Hewitt (above left). Angus daubs and dabs with deft vigour, almost as though he didn’t really care where the paint landed. But the result is remarkable: there’s that glint in David’s eye! And there’s that sly grin! And there’s that crooked way he stands! That’s David Hewitt, all right. No question.
Henry Smith – There are two things that are abundantly clear about this painting. Henry Smith knows his subject, which is painting. And Henry Smith knows his subject, which is Craig San Roque (right). This a highly accomplished, technically impeccable, beautifully resolved and, as befitting its philosophically inclined, culturally complex sitter, deeply serious piece of work.
Jennifer Taylor – Jenny Taylor makes landscapes, mostly. This piece, a portrait of Agnes Abbott, is no exception (below left). Agnes is in her country, her pmere. And her pmere is in Agnes. Her skin is textured and rust-coloured like the rocks behind her; and her hair is textured and coloured like the clouds above her. (The work is titled, Agnes Abbott shows where she ran away home from Arltunga Mission, 2015)
From these six, we picked our three. And from those three, we picked out one. It wasn’t easy, because any of our six of the best would have been a worthy winner of this prize.
What we can’t do is emulate Marlene Rubuntja’s entertaining announcement. So herewith the plain version:-
Angus McIvor took out third place, with a $500 prize; Jennifer Taylor’s second earned her $2000; and the winner was Henry Smith for his portrait of Craig San Roque. He went home $7000 richer.
The public are also invited to vote for the People’s Choice Prize, worth $1,000 to the winning artist.
The exhibition will travel to Darwin later this year.
Note: Iain Campbell’s entry, In search of lost artworks, 2016, was precluded from winning as this is an acquisitive award and the work is not for sale. – KF.