Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Three judges disagree; three winners.

Australia’s richest art prize, the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, made history on Monday, awarding $ 100,000 to three artists, effectively doubling the prize pool to $ 300,000.

Held at Juniper Hall in Paddington, Sydney, the event featured opening remarks from one of the three judges, artist Tim Storrier, who won the $ 150,000 prize in 2017. “Some judges are more stubborn than others, some are better informed.” he said. “In this case, I do not know what it was, but we decided we could not make a decision.

“There will be people who disagree with the elections. It is always there. But one can not criticize the generosity of the Moran Foundation… it is three Archibald awards in one day!”

The award – which was canceled last year due to the pandemic – invites original works by Australian artists who “capture Australians from all walks of life”. It differs from the Archibald Prize by not only its money, but its judging panel, which is smaller and weighted against artists and curators.

In 2021, all three winners – Vincent Fantauzzo, Andrew Greensmith and Michael Vale – are from Melbourne, where two of the artists partially credited the city’s record-breaking 262 days in lockdown over the past two years for their success.

Vale said he had painted Our Ghostly Crew – with himself, his wife, filmmaker Donna McRae and their dog Pancho (now dead) – during Melbourne’s first lockdown last year.

“I’m very lucky, I have a home studio, and Donna was very accommodating,” he said.

Michael Vale's Our Ghostly Crew
Michael Vale’s Our Ghostly Crew

“We are both very keen on horror and the supernatural, so we agreed [the portrait] must have a slightly gothic feel. A combination of having a beautiful model and a vivid imagination meant that I could let go. ”

Fantauzzo also paid tribute to his wife and sitter, actor Asher Keddie, who was present at Monday’s ceremony.

“I suppose we both had a lot of time on our hands, with all the lockdowns,” the artist told Guardian Australia.

The portrait, aptly titled Muse, is about the sixth Fantauzzo believes he has painted of his wife over the past decade. “Obviously she’s being drawn into this all the time,” he said.

The artist won Doug Moran in 2011 for his portrait of Baz Luhrmann, and he has won the Archibald people’s election four times – once, in 2013, for yet another portrait of Keddie. He is also known for his official 2017 portrait of former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The twins
‘There was pathos in their faces’: Two Lives One Soul, by Andrew Greensmith

Greensmith’s portrait of Holocaust survivors twins Annetta Able and Stephanie Heller completes the 2021 Moran Prize trifecta.

The artist, who is also one of Melbourne’s leading plastic surgeons, said it was a deeply moving experience to be in the presence of “two ordinary citizens who had been through extraordinary life events”.

“There was pathos in their faces – and in my work I am very interested in faces. I think people carry their lives on their faces. “

Michael Vale and Donna McRae
Michael Vale and his partner, director Donna McRae. Photo: Brendan Read

The twins were subjected to medical experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz from 1943 until its liberation in 1945. In 1962, the Prague-born sisters and their families moved to Melbourne.

Greensmith’s Two Lives One Soul portrait includes a painted photograph of the twins with their mother and younger sister, none of whom survived the Holocaust.

The artist completed the portrait a few months before Stephanie died in September 2019, at the age of 95.

Storrier judged the Moran Prize together with Dr. Peter Moran, son of Doug Moran, and curator Daniel Thomas, Emeritus Director at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Thomas said the number of records directly referring to infection and lockdown was remarkable this year.

“But we became aware of a more general emphasis on the intimate life, of the family at home, of love and friendship,” Thomas said.

“Of course, there are a few portraits of beautiful or important people among the 30 finalists. We found, however, that most of the selected portraits constituted a wonderfully ordinary study of all-Australian diversity, many old and ordinary and modest, but intensely individual and emotionally charged. “

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