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Double vision helps Brisbane artist take out $50,000 portrait prize


The winners of this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize have been announced, with Keith Burt awarded the $50,000 Lord Mayor’s Prize at a ceremony at Brisbane Powerhouse last night.

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Burt, who was also a finalist in last year’s inaugural prize, took out the top honour for Urban Artists, his portrait of twins Matthew and Daniel Tobin, founders of Brisbane-based global art and architectural design company Urban Art Projects.

This year’s judge, National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich, praised Burt’s portrait of the Tobins, calling it “a truly resolved portrait on all fronts” and commending the artist’s “subtle ambition, the discipline of colour, the confidence of the painting technique and the focus on the two sitters”.

“Great portraits that are arresting capture you quite quickly, they grab you and they hold your attention and gaze and I think that’s what makes a very interesting portrait,” Mitzevich told InQueensland.

“The winner is such a complex portrait, it’s a double portrait of two identical twins, and their physical likeness is the same, but they both have individual character, and the artist has been able to capture that and ensure that one sitter doesn’t overpower the other.”

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner, artist Keith Burt and National Gallery of Australia director and Brisbane Portrait Prize judge Nick Mitzevich. (Photo: Daniel Johnson)

Burt became emotional when collecting his prize, paying tribute to the encouragement he has received from his peers and friends, including the Tobins, and making special mention of the support he has received from his partner, Tara.

“Just the support that the people around me give me is incredible, my partner in particular, she’s the breadwinner of the family and she supports me not only financially at times when I’m not doing so well, which happens to all artists, but also just emotionally, because you’re a bit up and down as an artist,” Burt told InQueensland. “Her support is just incredible.”

He also said Matthew and Daniel Tobin were “not only my mates, they’re incredibly impressive people”.

“UAP Foundries is amazing place, an amazing company and you want to do their lives justice  and putting them together doubles the pressure in a way.”

Despite 2020 being a challenging year for the arts sector in particular, Burt said, “lockdown’s not as bad as you might think for visual artists”.

“You just get on with what you do and, and to a certain extent, your money comes in chunks anyway, like when you have an exhibition. I was lucky, I had an exhibition in November 2019 and I’ve got another one in February 2021. So financially, they’re my markers anyway so lockdown’s not too bad.

Burt recalled working as an illustrator several years ago and receiving fan mail praising one of his magazine covers, explaining that the letter-writer then pejoratively explained her surprise at discovering the artist was from Brisbane.

“I remember reading that and just thinking, she is giving me a compliment but it’s a backhanded compliment and I wish she was here tonight because look at the great pictures here. Brisbane is a vibrant, cultural city, and I’m proud of it.”

Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner told InQueensland he was pleased Brisbane City Council was able to continue its support of the prize this year.

“It was great to see this prize go ahead, and it makes me so proud,” Schrinner said.

“When it comes to the size of the council budget, it’s a $3.1 billion budget and this is a $50,000 investment, and it’s hard to find a better investment for $50,000 than supporting the arts in this way, at a time when so many artists are struggling and so many things have shut down.”

Schrinner said he was “blown away” by the quality and diversity of portraits on display this year.

“I didn’t envy the judges trying to narrow it down, you know from more than 700 entries to the final 70, and then to pick a winner,” he said.

“It was an incredibly difficult task given the talent that we have here and in the end, they’re performing at such a high level that it comes down to some really minor things which set one above the other, but we should be so proud of the talent that we have the talent on display.”

Jun Chen was highly commended for his portrait of former Brisbane lord mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, as were Sam Cranstoun for Self Portrait (With the Benefit of Hindsight) – a painting inspired by a childhood photograph of the artist with his siblings Georgia and  Matthew – and Leah Emery for her embroidered thread self-portrait These Are My Real Eyes Now.

Glenn Hunt won the Digital Portraiture category for Prize Fighter, his portrait of boxer Jeff Horn, and fellow photographer David Kelly took out the Performing Arts and Music Award for his image of Quandamooka dancer, songman and Minjerribah Indigenous ranger Patrick Coolwell.

The Packing Room Prize was won by James Kearns for Leisl, a striking portrait of his cousin, former Olympics swimmer Leisl Jones; the Sylvia Jones prize for women was won by Julie Fragar for her self-portrait There Goes the Floor, and the inaugural Under-18 prize was taken out by 15-year-old Christine Rowell for her self-portrait Disconcerted by the Unknown.

Christine Rowell’s self-portrait Disconcerted by the Unknown was the inaugural winner of the Under-18 prize, which was sponsored by Gadens.

Brisbane Portrait Prize chair Anna Reynolds said despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had attracted 766 entries this year – up 15 per cent on last year’s 663 –  and also retained existing sponsors and attained new support.

“The board was determined to support artists and the role of art in our lives throughout these extraordinary times. The arts community has responded with submissions that capture the isolation and darkness of lockdown as well as the hope and triumph of the people of Brisbane,” she said.

The Brisbane Portrait Prize finalists’ exhibition continues at Brisbane Powerhouse until November 1.  Here will also be a Salon De Refuses held at Royal Queensland Art Society’s Petrie Terrace Gallery, and an Under-18s finalists’ exhibition at Gadens.

Visit the Brisbane Portrait Prize website for more information or to book timed tickets to the Brisbane Powerhouse.

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