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Prize fight: Brisbane Portrait finalists in Powerhouse display


After a stellar response from entrants, this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize finalists’ exhibition officially opens at Brisbane Powerhouse today.

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The finalists’ exhibition will showcase works from 75 artists, including 71 entrants from the main competition and four from the Under 18s category that has been introduced this year.

The exhibition at the Brisbane Powerhouse is free to attend, with timed tickets available from the Brisbane Portrait Prize website.

A total of 766 entries were received this year – a 15 per cent increase in on 2019, the first year the prize was held – and Brisbane Portrait Prize chair and co-founder Anna Reynolds said she was impressed by the volume of entries, as well the quality and diversity of works on display.

“What’s really great is seeing the fruits of all the labour and just to think that more than 760 Brisbane-based artists, were motivated to do a painting, drawing, print or a photograph or digital work and put it into this exhibition,” Reynolds told InQueensland.

“That’s a lot of creativity happening around the place that maybe wouldn’t have otherwise so it’s really quite heartening to see the finalists’ works, and really examine them and what they start to tell us about ourselves and our world.”

Anne Marie Zanetti’s portrait of Dean Merlo.

Reynolds said there were a range of trends that emerged from this year’s entrants, including a greater emphasis on family members and friends, a larger number of self-portraits and renderings that reflected the unique social conditions of 2020.

“I think it shows that artists paint themselves and they paint the times,” she said. “There are a lot of self-portraits and there are a lot of portraits of partners and a lot of the portraits do more than tell an individual story about an artist and a sitter.

“A lot of them this year actually go much more into commenting about the human condition and that’s what’s been really interesting – talking to some of the people about some of the works, they would say ‘that’s just how I felt, that’s just how I feel during COVID’.

“There’s a sort of collective expression of the times that we’re living in and that seems to be what’s coming through in a big way.”

Marisa Veerman’s The Teller of Tales – Sarah-Jane Walsh.

There are works on display from some renowned local artists, including Charlie Xu, Maureen Hanson, Anne-Marie Zanetti, Sarah Hickey, Jun Chen and Glenn Hunt, and depictions of familiar faces such as Dame Quentin Bryce, Sallyanne Atkinson, John Collins and Dean Merlo.

“We’ve got a range of really well-known artists, as well as a range of emerging artists and some people who have done other things most of their lives and this is their first or second portrait, so you’ve got a range of people coming from a range of different backgrounds.

“What I think’s really interesting this year is the different styles and techniques that present in the pilot exhibition. There’s a tapestry, which is an amazing feminist work, and there’s a photographic print on canvas, so there’s a range of really interesting and quite surprising works this year.

“It’s almost like it’s a collective outpouring of emotion and stories and that seems to be one of the overriding themes.”

Despite the difficulties the BPP board has faced in only its second year of operation, Reynolds said the response from both artists and sponsors had been overwhelmingly positive.

“Artists are very innovative people, and they’ve found ways to connect and I think the response we’ve had to the call for entries this year has been phenomenal.

“Certainly when we first went out to the artists in earlier in the year and started to talk about whether or not we should proceed, they overwhelmingly said yes, go ahead with it, as did our sponsors and supporters so I think everyone feels a sense of pride that we’ve managed to provide a bit of a platform for people.”

Mark Stockwell – Olympian, by David Hayes.

Reynolds was equally full of praise for the COVID-safe environment curators and staff at Brisbane Powerhouse have managed to present for visitors.

“Our cultural partners at Brisbane Powerhouse are being very cautious and being very mindful of the COVID restrictions and that’s as it should be.

“Bearing that in mind, we’ve got timed ticketing and there’s obviously limited capacity for sponsor events and events, including opening night with food and beverages. As everybody knows, that landscape is completely different now.”

Brisbane Powerhouse artistic director Kris Stewart has told InQueensland the venue was 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.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Reynolds, who encouraged Brisbane residents to visit Brisbane Powerhouse before the exhibition wraps up on November 1.

“Go along and have a good look at the pictures and you’ll find something to entertain, amuse and challenge you,” she said.

Winners for this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize will be announced on October 6.

The finalists’ exhibition at Brisbane Powerhouse is open Tuesdays-Sunday from 11am-5pm.  Visit the Brisbane Portrait Prize website for more information or to book a one-hour timed viewing session.

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