Brisbane Portrait Prize board member Michelle Farquhar said last year’s inaugural BPP had exceeded expectations.
“We were completely blown away by the success of it last year and despite everything, things are tracking extremely well in terms of entries for this year,” Farquhar told InQueensland.
“It’s an exhibition and an event that has really captured the essence of Brisbane, and it’s a celebration of stories that are ordinary and everyday right through to the people who are celebrated and acknowledged as being superstars in our society.
“It’s a wonderful and eclectic mixture of Brisbane stories that really reflects the fabric of who we are as people and as a community.”
There is a prize pool of almost $90,000 for this year’s BPP, including $50,000 for the Lord Mayor’s Prize and $10,000 for the Accenture Digital Award.
There are also prizes of $7500 for the People’s Choice, Performing Arts and Music and the Sylvia Jones Prize for Women Artist, as well as a $5000 Packers’ Prize, $2000 for the Under-18s Category and two $1000 prizes for emerging artists.
Farquhar said winning the top prize could be “absolutely transformative” for an artist.
“People who choose to be creatives or artists, whatever medium they choose, oftentimes they’re really treading on very thin ice from an economic point of view and it’s absolute commitment to their creative soul that they sacrifice their income, too,” she said.
As InQueensland reported earlier this year, the bursary helped 2019 winner Leonard Michael Brown afford sight-saving surgery.
“This Wednesday I have cataract surgery,” Smith said at the Brisbane Portrait Prize launch at Howard Smith Wharves in February.
“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.”
Farquhar pointed out that portraiture was not a discipline Brown – who is renowned for his abstracts and strict canonical Russian icon painting – ordinarily worked in.
“That’s a real encouragement for anyone to take the opportunity to get into the prize, because it shows that [portraiture] doesn’t have to be your bread and butter,” she said.
There have already been hundreds of submissions this year, with subjects including artists Reg Mombassa and Birrunga Wiradjuri, NRL coach Wayne Bennett and ABC Brisbane radio host – and InQueensland columnist – Rebecca Levingston.
Farqhuar said the board was expecting to see an even more diverse range of entrants this year.
“I definitely think that the silver lining has been that the creatives and artists have had the opportunity, in isolation, to focus on portraiture, painting, drawing, or whatever digital application they may choose,” she said.
“I certainly know a couple of people in particular who otherwise are performers or singers who have had their painting skills sort of on ice for a little while, but this opportunity has allowed them the time and the space to reconnect or connect with portraiture, and they’ve taken the opportunity to cast entries, which is really lovely.
“I’m imagining that there will probably be lots of homegrown heroes you know people from the frontline in the health or medical sector. I suppose just as we’ve all adapted from face-to-face meetings to Zoom meetings and videoconferencing, artists have had to adapt and put different skills in play to really capture their subjects, or their sitters, so it will be fascinating to see, you know what this very bizarre moment in history will produce.”
Farqhuar said the board “really had to stare down the barrel at the possibility that we may not be able to have a physical exhibition” this year, but she said they remained “100 per cent committed” to hosting a public showing of this year’s finalists at Brisbane Powerhouse from September 30.
“We’re really excited to be planning to be back in the Powerhouse,” she said. “Obviously the COVID restrictions and the requirements for having a public event are evolving and we’ll have to move with that but really our hearts are set on being able to share the works of the finalists.
“It’s not an intimidating venue by any stretch of the imagination and I think that’s the absolute beauty of portraiture – what portraiture does around the world is invite people into art spaces.
“Some sectors of the art world can be more difficult to understand or to engage with, but portraiture is absolutely accessible and, and the Brisbane Powerhouse is a perfect partner for us in this venture.”
Brisbane Powerhouse artistic director Kris Stewart said he was also looking forward to welcoming the Portrait Prize back to the venue this year.
“We had a great reception last year, not only in terms of the quality of the entries but the number of people who came through to see it,” Stewart told InQueensland.
“In this time of uncertainty, exhibitions are some of the safest and most enjoyable things to come and experience because by their very nature they’re COVID-safe – you’re sort of socially distancing, you’re not sitting next to someone, you’re moving through a pace and seeing a whole bunch of different things.
“We’ve just got to enjoy these times for what they are.”