Review / Endless fascination in Moran portraits

Arts / “Doug Moran National Portrait Prize,” at the Belconnen Arts Centre, July 1-23. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

“Scarlett as Colonial Girl”, by Megan Seres… has her subject centred on the canvas, looking scared and lost, and perhaps fearful of the things to come from the colonial age setting. 

PORTRAITURE is a universal subject that says everything about us without ever using a word. Today, portraits can look pretty much like anything, and we are much more aware of the human condition now that artists can represent us in different ways.

The endless fascination we have with the human form and face never seems to stop surprising us, or evolving as a style. In almost any portrait prize, there are images that range from the hyper-real, to complete abstraction. Sometimes, portraits can even be void of humans with just representations of the things people own or wear.

In the finalists of the 2016 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, there’s a good cross-section of styles and content. Rodney Pople’s mixed media work titled “Legacy of betrayal (portrait of Phil D’Ammond)”, is a poignantly blurry, almost nightmarish collection of three men seen inside a church. Two in their religious garments, hovering like ghouls, and the other, sitting with his head in his hands, a strung out looking younger man trying to wash away the legacy of those that have betrayed him. It is a striking work.

The mid-sized portrait and the winner of the portrait prize, titled “Scarlett as Colonial Girl”, by Megan Seres, has her subject centred on the canvas, looking scared and lost, and perhaps fearful of the things to come from the colonial age setting.

Joel Rea’s oil painting titled “Mick Fanning – Edge of Infinity”, positions itself through the viewer looking from above the brink of a high cliff, with Fanning standing on the edge, looking up at the viewer. This perfectly designed and proportioned artwork captures its subject and setting with such power that the viewer can almost feel vertigo and the nervousness of being in such a position.

“Large Tartan Blanket” by Prudence Flint.

Prudence Flint’s instantly recognisable artworks have such a presence that once I saw one, I could distinguish her painting from other artists straightaway. In her “Large Tartan Blanket”, it’s almost a sterile view of the world, but one that says a lot about the two women depicted lying on that blanket, though they are together, you can instantly feel their separation.

The small but arresting artwork titled “Self Portrait with Camellias” by Yvette Coppersmith, on first look could be seen as just a disembodied head. But, with her eyes focused away from the viewer, and with a firm and determined expression, this work leaves me in no doubt that the strength of her character is the painter.

The Effie Mandalos artwork titled “Rick Amor”, who is also an artist, has a sombre brown palette, that for me, captures both artists deep in the thoughts and philosophy of their art.

The 30 artworks in this travelling portrait prize, are images of Australians who portray how we see ourselves, but also of the things we feel, know and remember.

The judges were historian Doug Hall, founder of the Moran Arts Foundation, Greta Moran and artist Anne Wallace.

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