Last week the TK team visited the Brisbane Powerhouse to check out one of Brisbane’s newest art initiatives: the Brisbane Portrait Prize. This prize seeks to showcase the best in contemporary portraiture and to celebrate the character of the city and those who make it what it is (https://www.brisbaneportraitprize.org/). Any artist with a connection to Brisbane may enter, and their portrait must feature someone with a strong Brisbane connection. Artists could enter a range of categories including Digital, People’s Choice, Performing Arts and Music Industries, and a Prize for Women artists. The total prize money totalled $80,000, with $50,000 of this going to the Lord Mayor’s Prize, supported by the Brisbane City Council.
If we weren’t jazzed enough about this exciting new opportunity for Brisbane artists, to make things even better two of of Cork & Chroma’s close friends were selected as finalists! The first, Nick Kohler, used to be an artist at Cork & Chroma. He is now based on the Gold Coast and focuses primarily on painting portraits. His piece ‘Jamie and Agro’ features media figure, voice artist and comedian Jamie Dunn, and his puppet Agro.
Nick was very excited to hear that Brisbane was starting a portrait prize. “It’s another brilliant way to embrace and showcase the vast creative talent in this city and introduce a big audience to the sometimes forgotten art of portraiture”, he said. For Nick, capturing somebody’s spirit is much more difficult than capturing their likeness. “It was always going to be tough getting Jamie’s energy on canvas, but that’s what I tried to paint,” he said. “I think my favourite part about painting portraits is the connection you make with the sitter and the journey you then go on with the painting trying to bring that connection to life on the canvas”. Nick found the process a humbling experience and said it was an honour having his work on display alongside so many renowned artists.
We were also delighted to hear that Deena Lynch, AKA Spectator Jonze, was a finalist for the Brisbane Portrait Prize. Deena is a Brisbane-based artist who works in music and the visual arts. Last year, Deena collaborated with Cork & Chroma on a series of sessions called ‘Arts and Minds’ to raise awareness of mental health issues. Deena’s digital painting ‘Cunxin Li: Mao’s Last Dancer’ features Li Cunxin as a child, as a nod to the inspiration he brought to her at the same age. The repeating pattern serves to highlight that strength is in time and repetition, and that there is beauty in the bigger picture (Lynch 2019).
“I was always so afraid of drawing portraits, because it is so human and real and personal – but now that is the very thing that makes me love painting portraits”, Deena said. “People wear stories onto their faces and in their demeanour and into their eyes and my favourite bit is capturing that to continue that story.”
Deena explains that with her portraiture she is less concerned about capturing personalities, and more interested in telling the stories and mental health battles that her subjects have generously opened up about. “I love turning these stories, battles and triumphs into a visual interpretation that can be preserved for everyone to reflect upon,” she said.
We were inspired by the incredible calibre of entries and diverse approaches to portraiture. Some portraits were thick, raw and textural, while others were refined and delicate with photographic likeness. We loved seeing the use of different contemporary mediums—one artist even used a poker to burn his subject’s likeness into plywood! Wandering through the gallery, we felt as if we were meeting people, not paintings.
The Brisbane Portrait Prize is no longer available for viewing, but we hope to see it back again next year. Who knows, we might even have a crack at it ourselves. You should too!