From painting to photography, the National Portrait Gallery’s awards season begins

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Whether you prefer your portraits of the classic paint-on-paper variety or in photographic form, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has revealed the finalists for two of Australia’s most important portrait awards.

So whatever your preference, now is the time to soak up some of the most striking images of the year.

The National Portrait Photography Award (NPPP) is one of the most popular photography competitions in the country. Since its inception in 2007, this highly anticipated annual event has offered substantial prize money and equipment to professional, amateur and budding Australian photographers.

Flora and Fauna, Giara: White Cockatoo, 2021 Luther Cora. Courtesy of the artist.

But if you prefer to view the portrait in a more classic painted form, the prestigious Darling Portrait Prize also takes place at the NPG during the same period.

The biennial event honors the legacy of Mr L Gordon Darling AC CMG, who was instrumental in establishing the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and who nurtured the art of Australian portrait painting. The Darling Portrait Prize offers a generous cash prize of $75,000 to the winner, in addition to the Highly Commended, Art Handlers’ Award and People’s Choice Award.

NPG Director Karen Quinlan and fellow judges Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, and Clothilde Bullen, Head of Indigenous Programs at the Art Gallery of Western Australia have selected 39 finalists for the 2022 exhibition which will be exhibited until October 9.

2020, 2021 Jaq Grantford

Melbourne artist Jaq Grantford received the Darling Portrait Prize for his self-portrait. Title 2020, the portrait captured her ‘mixed feelings’ about the pandemic-enforced lockdowns, using an incredible amount of detail to express the confusion she felt about the period: concern for others and relief to focus on the painting.

Grantford was praised for the unusual composition and sensibility she captured, especially the hands covering her mouth, a sweet nod to mask-wearing experiments.

Sabine Desrondaux – Woman of letters, 2021 Tony Sowersby.

Karen said the judges were impressed with the diversity of approaches, subjects and artistic styles showcased among the nearly 600 entrants.

“We approach the Darling Prize in a democratic way, with the idea that artists of all career stages, working across genres and artistic styles, are invited to submit portraits of all Australians. The models and artists are not expected to be well known – what we are looking for are exceptional artistic representations of our large and varied community.

“The 2020 inaugural exhibition offered a broad picture of the faces and characters that make up contemporary Australian life, and we were able to acquire several pieces for the NPG collection, including the winning portrait of Anthea de Silva from the maven of dancing, Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, and a portrait of writer Tim Winton by Sally Robinson, among others. The 2022 Darling Portrait Award finalists are listed here.

Siegi, 2020 Steph Connell. Courtesy of the artist.

The portrait of Wayne Quilliam Silent Force 2021depicting Aurukun man Eric Yunkaporta wearing ceremonial headgear, won the 2022 National Photographic Portrait. The finalists are listed here.

Quilliam is a leading Indigenous photographer, curator and cultural advisor and describes the portrait as a capture of Mother Earth. “In its purest essence, the evolution of culture connects us to Mother Earth. My role as a storyteller continues to evolve and this capture is like a trickle of water melting into a small stream and then into the ocean. This image of Eric Yunkaporta from Aurukun is Culture”.

Silent Force, 2021 Wayne Quilliam. Courtesy of the artist.

In reaching their decision, the jury – award-winning press photographer Nick Moir and Sandra Bruce, the National Portrait Gallery’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Associate Curator Rebecca Ray – declared Quilliam’s portrait to be a work of immense power and beauty.

“Everything in this portrait is exceptional. The composition, the contrast, the richness of color in the ochres and feathers, as well as the sense of pride the subject represents – all of these layers and details have such power to connect the subject and its story to the audience.

Sandra Bruce said this year’s NPPP never fails to deliver a range of emotions. “Australia is a country with myriad faces, and as we continue to live in disruptive times, this year’s National Portrait Photography Award offers a panoramic view of the nation’s experience, reminding us that our lives continue regardless of the larger circumstances.”

“Australia is a country with myriad faces, and as we continue to live in disruptive times, this year’s National Portrait Photography Award offers a panoramic view of the nation’s experience, reminding us that our lives continue regardless of the larger circumstances.”

Two works to watch are the winners of the Art Handlers Awards, selected by the team responsible for tending the NPG’s collection and hanging the exhibits as their favorite works.

Weight of Periapty of the Spirit, 2021 Jane Allan.

by Jane Allan portrait of his carer Warren, titled Weight of the peript of the spirit 2021, won the Darling Portrait Prize Art Handler’s Award 2022. NPG Collection Manager Maria Ramsden and Collection Administrator Renee Joyce said:

“One of the few downsides of working with art every day is that you can become numb to the beauty and power of artwork. Sometimes a work is able to remind you of that, drawing you in and letting you taste the pleasure, curiosity and joy that art can offer. Weight of the peript of the spirit was that job for us.

Weight of Periapty of the Spirit, 2021 Jane Allan.

by Adam Hadrick portrait of an aboriginal elder Cordy, titled Cordy in the Clouds 2021, won the 2022 National Photographic Portrait Prize Art Handlers Award. NPG collection agents Jess Kemister and Jacob Potter were mesmerized by Adam Haddrick’s portrayal of Cordy, saying the photo “captures a calm, still moment, conveying a sense of calm and the peaceful energy of the subject.You can watch this work for a long time.

The finalists for the Cherished Portrait Prize and the National Photographic Portrait Prize are on display from Saturday, June 25 to Sunday, October 9.

Feature picture: Shuttle, 2021 André Rovenko. Courtesy of the artist.

The essentials

What: 2022 Awards Season at the National Portrait Gallery
When: June 25 to October 9.
Tickets: $15 adults, $12 concession, available here. Reservation required with tickets giving access to the two award-winning exhibitions.

Julia P. Cluff