Bega artist wins Basil Sellers $15k prize

Bega artist Merryn Sommerville and her winning work

Bega artist Merryn Sommerville and her winning work

Bega artist Merryn Sommerville is the winner of this year’s $15,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize. 

Her winning piece ‘Ghosts I’ve met’ – a pastel and pencil work on paper - was selected from 27 shortlisted works that make up the Art Prize’s 2016 exhibition at the Mechanics Institute in Moruya.

The winner of the biennial prize was announced to a large audience at the gala opening on Thursday night by Deb Thompson, Mr Sellers’ director of charities. Mr Sellers is an art collector and philanthropist, and Ms Sommerville work will be added to his extensive collection of modern Australian and European art, kept at his home in Sydney.

Ms Sommerville, 28, was a very excited young artist on Thursday night.

She grew up in Milton, studied a visual arts degree in Canberra and now practises her art in Bega. She has been selected by a Melbourne gallery for her first solo exhibition later this year.

She said that being chosen as the winner by judges she respects has really moved her, as does knowing that her piece will be enjoyed by Mr Sellers in his home, surrounded by other wonderful art.

Eurobodalla Shire Council’s $1000 Highly Commended Award went to Mogo’s Mary Watson for her ceramic pieces ‘Sunday Morning at Surf Beach’.

Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes spoke at the opening and said she was so proud that Mr Sellers had chosen this shire to showcase his generosity.

“This art prize starts conversations in our community about why we value art, and I’m inspired by the diversity of works this year. I hope the exhibition will encourage local budding artists to explore their creativity,” she said, adding that the exhibition is a reminder of the beauty of our region.

Judges for the prize were Dr Janda Gooding from the National Museum of Australia, Tony Oates from ANU’s Drill Hall Gallery, and Deborah Clark from the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

Speaking on behalf of the judges, Ms Clark said shortlisting the 27 finalists from over 100 entries was a rewarding and enjoyable effort.

“We had a rich set of offerings and a wonderful range of subject matter and mediums and we enjoyed the judging very much. To be a finalist in this show in a great thing,” Ms Clark told the audience.

Local Indigenous elder Loretta Parsley provided a warm and entertaining Welcome to Country, draped in a possum-skin cloak made by local Aboriginal people. A long line of people took up Ms Parsley’s offer to try on the cloak after the ceremony.  

Council’s arts and culture coordinator Indi Carmichael organises the prize and said the quality of Basil Sellers entries continues to improve.

“The entries are representative of the south coast region and are a true expression of our talented arts community,” she said.

Visitors to the exhibition, open daily from 10am to 4pm at the Mechanics Institute in Moruya, can vote in the People’s Choice Award until Thursday, October 27, when the exhibition closes. The winner of the People’s Choice Award will receive a $500 prize thanks to South East Arts.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize was established in 2004 as a biennial event for artists in the Eurobodalla. In 2010 the exhibition extended its reach to include entries from south east NSW and is now one of the region’s most prestigious art events. The $15,000 acquisitive prize has been made possible by collector of art and philanthropist, Mr Basil Sellers.

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