The Blake Prize 2010 – Part I

Blake Prize 2010 Installation 2

Friday, 22 April 2011 

The Blake Prize 2010 – Part I

And now something just in time for Easter…

A dear friend of mine was closely involved with the Melbourne leg of the 2010 Blake Prize Finalists’ exhibition, which was appropriately staged at the Toorak Uniting Church, in Toorak Road, Toorak. Appropriately, because the Blake Society awards prizes for religious art, and what a better place to stage a show of its finalists than in the context of an actual place of worship.

I must confess that this was the first time that I actually saw the Blake Prize and examined in detail works of its finalists. Don’t get me wrong, I have been aware of the Prize for a very long time. It is an important event in the annals of Australian art, and over the years its prizes had been awarded to such worthy recipients as Justin O’Brien, Leonard French, Stan Rapotec, John Coburn, and numerous other luminaries of Australian art, for whom religion – or at the very least religious inspiration – was an integral part and subject matter of their oeuvre.

BP2010 Leonard BrownI privately rejoiced the fact that its 2010 winner is Leonard Brown, who is another worthy recipient. He is a lay Orthodox priest; and his professional painting practice includes icon painting, superbly executed in a traditional Russian style. However, his contemporary art practice is best described as conceptual and textural minimalism; titles of his works are invariably derived from theological texts and liturgical hymns; and once you get the brevity of his aesthetics, combined with the intense spirituality that guides his works, the world of his art reveals itself. The winning work, If you put your ear close, you’ll hear it breathing, is very much representative of his works that are usually exhibited at the Charles Nodrum Gallery here in Melbourne, or elsewhere in Australia.

I can perhaps think of only few other artists in the exhibition, who continuously explore religious subject matter in their works. This includes Heather Elyard, who decorated the walls of the Jewish Museum of Australia, and who is represented in the exhibition by an installation, Archive of Signs; the octogenarian Franz Kempf is perhaps another one. It is also interesting to observe the presence in the finalists’ exhibition of paintings by Aboriginal artists, such as Elizabeth Kunoth Kngwarray, Genevieve Kemarr Loy, and Cowboy Loy Pwerl, for their works are indeed a reflection and interpretation of their traditional mythological lore. The fact that the Blake Prize is becoming an all-inclusive award irrespective of religious leanings is demonstrated by the presence of works by Arabic artists, such Rolla Khadduri and Cath Braid’s My Prayer is…

BP 2010 Genevieve Loy

However, I started noticing with an increasing concern the presence in the exhibition of works by the artists who do not usually paint on religious subject matter; and who have not deviated at all from their usual style or manner of painting. They simply took any odd work from their studio, whacked a religiously-seemed subtitle onto it – and suddenly it’s a religious painting worthy of being entered into a religious art award. In my opinion, this devaluates the prize, and dilutes its message and directive.

… to be continued… 


[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

3 Responses to “The Blake Prize 2010 – Part I”

  1. 1 kim
    May 1, 2011 at 1:56 am

    The Blake Prize encompasses subjects of a spiritual nature, not religious alone.

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

April 2011


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