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Portrait Prize helped save winner's eyesight


For an artist, being awarded $50,000 can be a life-changing experience, and for Leonard Michael Brown, who won the inaugural Lord Mayor’s Prize at last year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize for his composition, Portrait of a Young Artist, Jordan Azcune, the windfall has prevented him from potentially going blind.

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“This Wednesday I have cataract surgery,” Brown said at the Brisbane Portrait Prize launch at Howard Smith Wharves yesterday. “My eyes closed down in early December and I don’t have private health insurance – like most artists I have an agrarian economy, you make a little bit and you plough it back in again.  So, I’ve got ten grand to spend on new eyes.

“I’m not rapacious, I don’t need mansions, but I need to be able to continue doing what I do,” he told InQueensland.

“This is not a discipline I normally function in.  I used to say I wore two hats – I painted pure abstract, and I also painted the strict canonical Russian icon, which I do, but now I have to say I wear three hats.”

Brown was visiting fellow painter Arryn Snowball in Berlin when he discovered he had won last year’s prize, and said he was “doing [his] economic sums and feeling glum” before he read the winners’ list on social media.

“Sometimes when you’re lying in bed doing your economic sums and feeling glum, you reach for your phone.  So, I went on to Instagram, and there were the winners of the Brisbane Portrait Prize, so my glumness ended very, very quickly.”

At yesterday’s launch, Brisbane Portrait Prize chair Anna Reynolds announced that this year’s chief judge would be National Gallery of Australia Director, Nick Mitzevich, with HOTA (Home of the Arts) gallery director Tracy Cooper-Lavery taking on the role of finalists judge.

This year’s prize pool has increased to $85,000, with $50,000 to be awarded to again be awarded for the Lord Mayor’s Prize.

Leonard Michael Brown’s “Portrait of a Young Man, Jordan Azcune”.

Mitzevich, who takes over from QAGOMA director Chris Saines as chief judge this year, expressed his excitement at being involved.

“Last year, so many exciting portraits were put on display and the relationships between the sitter and the artist were really quite obvious and I’m looking forward to seeing what portraiture in Brisbane in the 21st century looks like,” he said.

“The big question is, what makes a great portrait?  Is it likeness, is it curiosity and uniqueness, or is it the relationship between the sitter and the artist that comes across because there’s a sense of comfort and a sense of confidence? I suppose it’s all of those things.

“I’m looking forward to really analysing and being curious and delighted – and somewhat confused at times – about what’s on offer.  I love the idea of looking into someone’s eyes and seeing if the artist has given more than sum of the parts and in essence, that’s what makes a great portrait.”

Reynolds said with entries now open for the competition, artists should be thinking about potential subjects.

“There are so many inspiring people in our community, some well-known, others not, who would make compelling subjects,” she said.

This year, a Salon des Refuses will be held at the Royal Queensland Art Society’s Petrie Terrace Gallery, which will provide more opportunity for artists to be exhibited, and a chance for the public to see a wider variety of portraits.

The Salon des Refuses will run concurrently with the Finalists Exhibition, which will feature about 100 artists and again be hosted by Brisbane Powerhouse, from September 30.

One the founding directors of the prize, artist and curator Brett Lethbridge, of Lethbridge Galleries, said last year’s prize and exhibition greatly exceeded his expectations.

“We were expecting 200-300 entries but we got 663, which was, we thought, because it was the right idea at the right time for Brisbane, because it’s about Brisbane, for Brisbane, by Brisbane artists.

“I’m hoping that all the important numbers go up.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be more entrants, but it could be a wider variety of artists and we’d like more people to come and see it as well.

“Even though we had 40,000 people come and see the exhibition, we would like more this year, and more support for sponsors and donors to make sure it can survive.”

Entries for the Brisbane Portrait Prize close on August 16, with the finalists to be announced on September 20 and winners in seven categories to be revealed on October 6.  For more details, visit

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