Image description: Jill Ansell’s Jack of All Trades, a painting exhibited in The Lester Prize. The image shows a small antique metal trinket box as a kind of diptych. On the left is an impasto painting of an older man with white hair and glasses, consumed in handiwork. On the right in an assemblage of two keys, a burnt matchstick, a postage stamp, and other small items.

 

By Izabela Barakovska

 

Walking through the Art Gallery of Western Australia’s Lester Prize exhibition, I couldn’t help but consider the 1890 Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story – in short and without spoilers – is much about an artist’s ability to capture the true essence, and quite literally the soul, of their subject. In combining intent, vision, technique and material to canvas, artwork becomes translation – where the artist communicates and shares not only part of their subjects’ story, but part of theirs as well.

 

One of the self-portraits I am drawn to is Oliver Shepherd’s Iconic. This piece facilitated an exploration for Shepherd, which delved into the intersection of “who I am, who I want to be, and who I appear to be”. With oil and gold leaf on birch panel, Shepherd creates a sharp and beautiful subversion of a classical style, to form an image that is part truth, part tradition, and part ambition. In my life, I grew up in a Macedonian Orthodox family. I have spent time admiring iconography, and the way religion, family and culture depict stories of legends such as monumental figures, fighters and protectors in age-old traditions and memories.

Image description: Oliver Shepherd’s Iconic. The painted man stands against a black background with a gold halo around his head. He is shirtless, and some tattoos are visible. He looks seriously at the viewer, and his right hand rests elegantly on his neck.

 

Other pieces that brought a smile to my face, admiration to my heart, and contemplation to mind are Jess Le Clerc’s Shadow and Bloom, Kierah Falkner Babbel’s Race Car Ya Ya and Jill Ansell’s Jack of All Trades.

 

In her subject description, Le Clerc describes the honesty with which her three daughters (painted) hold themselves; “honest because they are unaware there is another option – they believe that the present moment is all that exists”. One daughter gazes back at the viewer with a depth and intensity that draws into the portrait. With such paradoxically gentle and sharp conviction, you can almost hear and see the movement of the dam by their home. The radiant energy their mother has captured, even amongst murky water, is a testament to her skill and their honestly, and a reminder to us all to reconsider our own actions, beliefs and interactions as we wade through whatever metaphoric murky water serves to test us.

Image description: Jess Le Clerc’s Shadow and Bloom. Three young girls at the bottom of the painting play in a lilypad-filled body of water. The girl in the middle looks back at the viewer with a strong gaze. The colour tones are dark.

 

A huge congratulations to Serena Cowie and her winning piece, The Conversation. The Lester Prize judges comment that:

 

“The polished execution of The Conversation and the portrayal of the intimacy between these two larger-than-life women, offer a compelling insight into the nature of friendship in an era of social and digital media. The exquisitely refined facture of this painting is perfectly attuned to the temporal sensibilities of our technological age.”

Image description: Serena Cowie’s The Conversation. A close-up of two women in conversation, against a yellow background. The woman at the back has a stern gaze, and looks at the woman in front. The woman in front, slightly to the left of the image, turns her head to look at the woman behind her, and also appears stern.

 

Congratulations to all finalists and award recipients. The exhibition in and of itself is a testament to the quality of work produced by West Australian artists, and the diversity, authenticity and vulnerability of their (and the greater Australian) passions and stories. I implore everyone to explore and resonate with these pieces and stories before the exhibition close on 29 November, 2020. Alternatively, access their virtual gallery here.

 

In her spare time, Izabela Barakovska likes to contemplate life and write. 

 

Images courtesy of The Lester Prize