Painters powerfully capture their subjects’ vulnerability

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“Jayden Rogers, Coledale Boy” by Paul Ryan.

Arts / 2018 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, Belconnen Arts Centre, June 13 to July 21. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

PORTRAITURE is a reflective and revealing medium that usually raises controversy. The world’s richest portraiture prize is the Doug Moran Portrait Prize. Founded by Doug and Greta Moran, and their family in 1988, this prize always brings in a large selection of works that illustrate the multi-faceted human face and form.

Everything from the obscure and unrecognisable to ultra real-life intimate portraits can be found in this travelling exhibition now on at the Belconnen Arts Centre until July 21.

Paul Ryan’s painting “Jayden Rogers, Coledale Boy” is an earthy and ghostly portrait that explores the nature of a person who lives in a beach side suburb. This unpretentious view of Rogers, who is the artist’s friend, shows how the sea and surrounds shape people, especially those who are drawn to the sea like surfers. This work shows the sitter caught in the centre of turbulent and crashing forms of sea and land.

“Self Portrait” by Lynn Savery.

The 2018 winner, Lynn Savery with her “Self Portrait”, which includes an English bulldog called Clementine, is a finely crafted almost photo-realistic work. It illustrates how body position contributes to gender stereotyping. It also includes items that are personal to the artists, such as magnolias.

“I am Watching You! (Kate McClymont, Investigative Journalist)” by Peter Smeeth.

Peter Smeeth’s work “I am watching you! (Kate McClymont, Investigative Journalist)”, is painted onto an acrylic mirror. The sitter, Kate McClymont, seems to be posing the question, is she looking at me? The artwork may be talking about a cash for comment or bribery scenario as wads of one-hundred-dollar notes are balancing on a scale against a notebook, while McClymont is looking questioningly at the viewer with a suspicious look and pointing to the notebook with a pen.

Painted portraits reveal more than a photo can because artist’s not only capture a likeness of a subject but also the inner personal traits, loves, confusions and desires of someone they are interested in. Some portraits may represent a notional or dreamscape view of a person or even a nightmarish image of someone caught in their own mind.

Martin Bell’s “Self portrait with stigmata” is one of these nightmarish artworks. The artist is seen boxed inside his artistic process, where he sees himself as a martyr suffering for his art and bleeding his life out onto the canvas.

Matilda Michell’s “Rose” is a soft-focus portrait that blends the background into the subject. It has the sitter looking introspectively sideways off into the distance at something Rose is thinking about. Classical compositions like this one reinforce the power of a simple positioning of a sitter’s gaze to create a world of soul-searching thought.

This exhibition shows that portraiture is as powerful as the real-life subjects that they depict. Portraits capture the vulnerable and active states of people and can say more about who they are than words can.

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