Imagination fills the prizewinning picture

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‘Elizabeth’ 2019, by Anthea da Silva.

Art / “Elizabeth” by Anthea da Silva, Darling Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

X-RAYS are created by electromagnetic radiation. They penetrate the human body and produce shadow-like images of what’s inside us, so do the artworks of Anthea da Silva.

The Darling Portrait Prize is Australia’s grand new annual prize for painted portraits. Anthea da Silva won first prize with her portrait of local dance legend Dr Elizabeth Cameron-Dalman OAM.

Ghostly, distorted and distinctive portrayals of the human form sweep da Silva’s canvases. The transparent and opaque ideas in da Silva’s artworks are creepily real, and so human.

Without being able to get into the mind of da Silva, I think I know what she is saying. Artists such as da Silva suggest what they see and feel, there are few hard statements in her works. It’s left to the imagination to fill in the picture.

What the judges of the Darling Portrait Prize saw in da Silva’s winning work was “the deliberate power of the seemingly unfinished elements of the work”. This view goes a long way in explaining the unfinished life of Cameron-Dalman.

The painting, titled “Elizabeth”, tells only part of the story of Cameron-Dalman. Just last year, along with her son Andreas Dalman, she published a book titled “Out of Silence”. This is a high-quality art book of her husband Jan Dalman’s personal and intimate photos of the French mime artist Marcel Marceau.

Getting back to the idea about the artworks of da Silva being like X-rays; what Cameron-Dalman and da Silva create are similar. Maybe it was destiny that the two meet. There is so much going on underneath these artists that it needs an X-ray to understand them. Maybe one can explain the other through their mediums, but it will take a mind far greater than mine to figure that out.

The ideas and lifestyles that Cameron-Dalman and perhaps da Silva exist within are on one level all surface, but underneath, the X-ray of their creative lives show something else. They portray something like Sigmund Freud was after to discover. The reason for being.

Trying to figure out the artworks of an artist is like trying to understand the stock exchange. Both do things for no reason at all, and for reasons that are only known to them. So the artwork you see before you, maybe saying various things. But a portrait is designed to capture something more than the outward appearance of a sitter.

Da Silva’s portrait of Cameron-Dalman hanging the National Portrait Gallery is a close-up composition of two artists lives; one of the dancer and choreographer and the other of someone who sees inside people for a living. Maybe they are both expressing and revealing the same things through their art.

The Darling Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery, until May 10.

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