Bluethumb Finalists in the Portia Geach Memorial Award
The Portia Geach Memorial Award is Australia’s most prestigious portrait award for women artists. The exhibition opens this Friday, and runs until the 26th of November. Not for the first time, we were thrilled to see that several Bluethumb artists had made the cut, including Kim Leutwyler, Rosa Fedele, Marian Quigley, Loribelle Spirovski, Caroline Zilinski, Claire Bridge and Jaq Grantford.
Off the back of her second Archibald nomination and announcement as a Sulman finalist, Kim has qualified as a Portia Geach finalist for the second time this year. Her entry, a self-portrait, is entitled Journey as Destination II.
“I actually cannibalised an older version of this painting to create the final piece,” says Kim. “The original iteration was comprised of nearly 100 triangular landscapes in a purple and beige geometric pattern. Half of those landscapes have now been covered up by rose quartz and periwinkle gestural marks.”
Kim says that she repainted the portrait because, “the skin tones and brushwork were bothering me, plus I have several more tattoos now!”
According to Kim, the nomination is especially welcome given the supportive community around the prize. “I’m very excited to celebrate with my fellow finalists,” she says, “and to continue to build on the community of supportive female artists who I met last year. Their support and honest critique over the past 12 months has been priceless.”
In particular, “I’m a fan of Filippa Buttitta, Sophia Hewson, Sally Ross, Wendy Sharpe, Mirra Whale… The list of female-identifying rockstar finalists for 2017 is staggering. I am so honoured to be exhibiting with some of these esteemed artists again, and really looking forward to meeting the women whose works I’m not familiar with.”
Kim believes that the prize is just as important for women artists now as it has ever been in the past. “Portrait painting has a primarily masculine place in western art history, so as an award that champions female artists this exhibition sends a message to major museums and galleries, most of which are showing no more than 20% of female artists, if any at all.”
For Rosa Fedele, another Portia Geach finalist from Bluethumb, “being selected for the Portia Geach has been a personal goal for many years and when I finally received that email beginning “Congratulations! Of the portraits you submitted …” I had to check it three times over to make sure I hadn’t misread it.” She goes on, “It’s such an honour to be exhibited alongside some of Australia’s finest women artists. Still pinching myself, actually.”
Rosa’s portrait, Insane in the Montaigne, depicts singer-songwriter Montaigne, or Jessica Cerro. Rosa says that she had been taking a break from portrait painting until she heard Montaigne playing over Triple J, “sounding like an exquisite fusion of Björk and Kate Bush… Montaigne evoked the New Romantics of the ’80s… an era I’m utterly fascinated with. Finally I’d found someone who inspired me to lift my portraitist’s brush once again!”
When the pair finally met, says Rosa, she “was pleased to find that Jessica was a vibrant young woman with an intelligent voice, exuding an intriguing combination of sassy confidence and eccentricity, layered with sensitive vulnerability. And when, on the day of our first sitting, Jess emerged in a decadent costume of frills, flounces and passementerie, I just knew I was going to have fun with this painting!”
“I’m heartened to see women finally receiving acknowledgement and representation in an, up till now, male-dominated profession,” says Rosa of the Portia Geach. “It’s a beautiful thing when women band together and show solidarity – in any field. Art prizes specifically for women artists are not only important, but necessary.”
One of Rosa’s favourites for this year is Kathrin Longhurst, “friend and fellow member of Portrait Artists Australia. She is an East German-born figurative artist who, influenced by Socialist realism and Communist propaganda art, paints images of fierce and determined women in her signature style.”
Another artist in the Portia Geach this year is Marian Quigley. “I’m absolutely thrilled to have been chosen as a finalist,” says Marian. “It’s the first time I’ve entered the prize, so that makes it even more amazing.”
“I’ve known Anne Davie [the subject of the portrait] for over 30 years,” Marian tells us. “She is now in her early 80s and is still incredibly active in supporting the local community, promoting arts and culture, the environment as well as other causes, including refugees.”
Marian says that she prefers to work with acrylics, “utilising a hard edge technique and minimalist abstraction. Vibrant colour and flowing line are key elements in my interpretations of the rhythms inherent in nature and the human form. The sea – particularly that around Bass Strait and the Western Port region – is a recurrent source of inspiration for my work.”
Like Kim and Rosa, Marian strongly believes in the importance of the Portia Geach as a female-oriented portraiture prize. “I think the Portia Geach prize is still of great importance to women artists even though they have achieved more public recognition recently than in the past.”
Loribelle Spirovski is somewhat of a Portia Geach veteran, this being her fourth consecutive year as a finalist.
“It’s such an important prize for me personally,” says Loribelle, “because it was the very first art prize I’d ever been selected in, and really kickstarted my career as an artist. It’s been such a huge year for me, and I’m so honoured and grateful to have been selected for both the Archibald and the Portia Geach. To be recognised and exhibited amongst so many worthy peers is always an absolute joy.”
Like her Archibald entry, Loribelle’s Portia Geach portrait, Brief Candle, depicts thespian John Bell. “Both of my portraits of John spawned from my time travelling around the country with him and my partner Simon Tedeschi, for their two man show ‘Enoch Arden’, and the sketches that I made of John as they rehearsed on stage.”
“Whereas ‘John Bell at Home’ (my Archibald portrait) expressed a side of John that people are more familiar – regal, commanding and striking – I wanted to also portray the side of John that I observed in the in-between moments on stage, when he took a breath, or waited for others to complete tasks around him.”
Loribelle agrees that the prize is an essential asset for oft-underrepresented women artists, but also talks about the beginnings of the prize. “What I love most about the prize is Portia Geach herself, and the love of her sister Florence Kate Geach, who established the award in her honour.” Portia Geach (1873 – 1959) was an artist and lifelong activist for womens’ rights in Australia.
“It’s very difficult to choose [a favourite from the prize], as there are so many that I love, but I adore the work of Esther Erlich, as well as Claire Bridge, and Vanessa Stockard.”