The 2020 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award has been won by Western Australian physiotherapist Cameron Richards from a field of 38 outstanding entries.
Mr Richards has no formal art education and uses painting as a creative outlet. He used acrylic on canvas for the winning portrait entitled Miss Priya Premkumar.
As a guest judge, National Portrait Gallery director Karen Quinlan AM was impressed with the quality of all the finalists but reserved glowing praise for Mr Richards’s entry.
“The artist really captured a great portrait,” she said. “It reflects on two different worlds and the challenge Priya would have juggling expectations of her family. I feel like I engaged with her and, in a sense, could almost talk with her. Everything is working and it’s definitely the winning portrait in the show.”
Mr Richards will receive $50,000 as Australia’s richest prize for realistic portraiture, and said the portrait explores his strong first impression of Priya, who he describes as his superior at work and life.
“Three years into our friendship, the creation of this piece has been incredibly positive and, admittedly, tedious,” he said. “My understanding of how Priya has come to be has deepened while painting as I have explored the complexities of her life: Australian, Sri Lankan and personal ideations, all intermingled and juxtaposed.”
One of Australia’s most loved and richest portrait awards, the biennial Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award celebrates realistic portraiture in memory of Bega Valley Regional Gallery’s eponymous patron.
Gifted Bega Valley portrait artist Shirley Hannan was a staunch supporter and generous patron of the arts. She funded the John Balmain National Award for Portraits and Figure Drawing from 1993, then re-established it in her own name in 2002 with a substantially increased first prize of $15,000.
Before her death in 2005, Ms Hannan doubled the prize purse to $30,000 and discarded the figure drawing component, concentrating on realistic portraiture.
Ms Hannan’s husband, Brian Settle, established the Shirley Hannan Trust to perpetuate the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award as a biennial, and in 2012 their son, Peter, paid further tribute to his mother’s memory with a generous personal donation of an additional $20,000, bringing the prize purse for subsequent awards to $50,000.
Bega Valley Regional Gallery director Iain Dawson paid tribute to the “continued generous and humble” support from Peter when officially opening the 2020 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award exhibition.
“Australians have a particular love of portraits, both as audiences and as artists, and we [Bega Valley Regional Gallery] are proud to be the home of one of the country’s most respected awards,” he said.
“Despite the incredibly challenging year, a fascinating field of works appears in this exhibition, with the strong trend in entries during the COVID-19 lockdown being toward artists’ self-portraits and portraits of their close family, many of which are represented here.
“Huge thanks go to our guest judge, Karen Quinlan, whose choice of winner is an important recognition of ability and skill, and we are excited to follow Cameron on his career journey.”
The 2020 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award is now on display at Bega Valley Regional Gallery and runs until 11 September.