‘Powerful image’ wins $50k Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award

A PORTRAIT of a serene young man in a hoodie described by judge Michael Desmond as “who Jesus would look like walking down Auckland St” has won the 2012 Shirley Hannan National Award for Portraiture.

Sydney artist Neil Moore’s oil on panel, “Portrait of Claudio”, was selected by Mr Desmond as the winner of the $50,000 prize in the Bega Valley Regional Gallery on Friday night.

Mr Desmond, the deputy director of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, spoke of the difficulty he had in selecting a winner and said it was not a painting he would necessarily like to have on his own wall.

However, he said it was a powerful image that had prompted him to ignore his own biases and notions of portraiture.

Mr Desmond said the exhibition was impressive and the quality of the works was high.

He spoke about the power of portraiture and urged guests to note their emotional response, not just of an image from the head but also from the hands.

“It’s hard to make paint do what you want it to do,” he said.

He spoke about the portraits of some famous people featured in the exhibition – like Ben Smith’s Nick Cave, Judi Power Thomson’s Robyn Archer, and landscape artist Leonard Long by his nephew Kim Nelson – but not all were famous.

He highlighted Dawn Stubbs’ portrait of her father-in-law as “impressive in oil” and local artist Mal Barnes’ image of Mayor Tony Allen that had “picked up Shirley’s use of pastels”.

Mr Desmond noted that the Shirley Hannan Award attracted artists from all over the country, which was indicative of the great pulling power that was the award’s reputation.

He said Ms Hannan had been drawn to realism and tied to tradition, “not downloading, groovy or fashionable”.

In opening the exhibition, Mayor Tony Allen paid tribute to Shirley Hannan’s husband, Brian Settle, and the Hannan family for their generosity in sponsoring the award.

“The Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award contributes greatly to the standing of the Bega Valley Regional Gallery as a place of importance when it comes to the arts,” he said.

He said it was wonderful to see locals among the 35 finalists and also to see so many artists make the journey to Bega for the opening.

He was particularly pleased to see Raylene Sharp among the 170-strong crowd present for Friday night’s announcement - as she had been, as a finalist, for the last six Shirley Hannans.

He praised the organisational skills of gallery curator Megan Bottari, public programs coordinator Megan Luhrs, and the many invaluable volunteers who contributed so much to keeping the gallery functioning so well.

The Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award finalists’ exhibition will continue until July 7 in the Bega Valley Regional Gallery.

A “people’s choice” award of $3000 will be announced at the conclusion of the exhibition.

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