Art prize winner revisits early life

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 black paper - was selected from 27 shortlisted works that make up the 2016 exhibition in Moruya.

“It was really amazing to get that acknowledgement from the three judges who I really respect,” the 28-year-old said. 

“[Mr Sellers] is a philanthropist who really values how art reflects society. 

“I feel really excited as a young female artist to bring a new depth to that kind of reflection within his collection.” 

She was announced as the winner of the biennial prize on Thursday night and her work will be added to Mr Sellers’ collection of modern Australian and European art, kept at his home in Sydney.

Ms Sommerville described Ghosts I’ve met as a “self portrait surrogate” as it is of her niece, who she has been drawing since she was born, and about revisiting herself as a child.  

“For me it’s really revisiting myself at the age of when I was forming the ideas of what it was to be female,” Ms Sommerville said. 

“It acknowledges much of who and what we are is instilled in us socially rather than biologically. 

“What I try and do with each of my works is that kind of emotional engagement with people. I want people to look at an image and feel it’s disconcerting, but not being able to say exactly why.

“What art really has the capacity to do is engage people with ideas from the inside out – it starts with emotion then later you revisit the ideas behind it.

“I feel compelled to make ambivalent works that become about why I’m making the work as I am doing it.” 

She grew up in Milton, completed honours in visual arts in Canberra and now lives in Bega. The prize money will assist with her solo exhibition at the Lindberg Gallery in Melbourne in 2017. 

The Basil Sellers exhibition is open daily from 10am-4pm at the Mechanics Institute in Moruya until October 27. 


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