The Brisbane Portrait Prize 2020

Dec 03, 2020

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Last month I visited the Brisbane Powerhouse a few days after it unveiled its second annual exhibition of the Brisbane Portrait Prize. The prize highlights the city’s talent in contemporary portraiture and offers an opportunity for artists. The rules for entry are simple, the main criteria being that the artist and sitter must each have a connection to Brisbane. The prize money at stake is notable, totalling $80,000 across all of the categories, with $50,000 accounted for the top spot of the Lord Mayor’s Prize. This year they received 672 entries and featured 71 finalists in the exhibition.

The 2020 Brisbane Portrait prize exhibition at the Brisbane PowerhouseThe Brisbane Portrait Prize at The Brisbane Power House.

Having viewed the exhibition last year, I was excited to see what this year’s showcase would bring. In fact, last year’s show inspired me so much that I painted and submitted my own painting of my friend Sellma Soul for the 2020 prize. That painting took nearly 50 hours of work and was a painting milestone for me; I hadn’t ever painted a portrait of that scale or devoted so much time to one painting. It was such a good experience and gave me reason to create and push my artistic boundaries.

Hillary standing with her portrait of Sellma SoulHillary and her portrait of Sellma Soul.

Tickets to see the exhibition were timed and limited due to Covid, so I happily snapped up the last available ticket in my time slot on the first Saturday of the show and walked in, camera at the ready. Understandably, given these unprecedented times, there were quite a few self portraits in the exhibition this year. The Portrait Prize changed its rules for 2020, noting that they would not require an in-person sitting between the artist and the subject as was required last year. I think many artists took the inevitable self-reflective moments that 2020 brought most of us and decided to reflect that in their submissions.

These Are My Real Eyes - self portrait by Leah Emery
‘These are my real eyes’ self portrait by Leah Emery.


Self portrait by Ashlee Becks, To have and to hold.‘To have and to hold’ self portrait by Ashlee Becks.

The Lord Mayors Prize Winner - Urban Artists - Keith Burt at The Brisbane Portrait Prize

‘Urban Artists’ by Keith Burt (The Lord Mayors Prize Winner).

One self portrait that I was particularly keen to view in person was Awake Elsewhere, a piece by Adam Southgate, a Brisbane artist who is on our team at Cork & Chroma. His emotion-filled self portrait is full of rich, dark tones and his concerned, contemplative expression tugged at my heart and ignited curiosity in my mind. In a recent PAINT. the podcast episode, Adam explained that this painting was created in the late hours of night and early morning, when he experienced trouble sleeping due to the anxiety and grief he had experienced this year.

Close up of Adam Southgate's self-portrait, Awake ElsewhereClose up of ‘Awake Elsewhere’ by Adam Southgate.

Person viewing Adam Southgate's self portrait, Awake Elsewhere

Brisbane Portrait Prize finalists.

Since I moved to Australia I have been taken by the culture of portrait painting that Aussies seemingly hold so dear. The Archibald Prize seems to capture a nation, and makes art something that the general public looks forward to each year. What excites me about seeing The Brisbane Portrait Prize in its second year was echoed by the winner of this year’s Lord Mayor’s Prize, Keith Burt, in his acceptance speech live-streamed on Facebook. He explained how happy he is to see that Brisbane is now a city where you don’t have to leave to pursue your dreams.

Once upon a time, it was understood that if you wanted to pursue a creative career and find creative opportunity, you’d need to head to Sydney or Melbourne, that Brisbane wasn’t the place for that. Looking forward, it’s going to become increasingly important to encourage and value the arts and our artists as we rebuild our cities and economy. Though we still have a ways to go on that path in Brisbane, I’m glad to see this opportunity to encourage creative expression.

Photo of the paintings at the Brisbane Portrait Prize 2020 exhibition

Brisbane Portrait Prize finalists.

The Brisbane Portrait Prize is no longer available to view in person, but we’ll be looking forward to seeing it again next year. I’m already wondering who to paint for my submission in 2021!

Get to know more about Brisbane’s art scene:

Listen to Adam’s interview on PAINT. The podcast.

Read about the 2019 Brisbane Portrait Prize.

Coffee and inspiring chats? Yes please! Sign up to Creative Mornings Brisbane.

Meet fabulous Brisbane drag artist, Sellma Soul.

More Brisbane artists who we love; Jimmy Patch, Rachel Burke, Bonnie Hislop and Megan Janet White.

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