The Blake Prize 2011 – Part II

BP 2010 Mary TonkinSaturday, 23 April 2011 

The Blake Prize 2011 – Part II 

As discussed in the previous post, the inclusion of random artworks with very tenuous connections to religious subject matter devalues the nature of the Blake Prize as an award for religious art, and dilutes its message and directive.

Landscape artists are among the ‘worst’ culprits in this sense. We all have a spiritual experience when we commune with nature; but even the least artistically-aware among us know the difference between a work of art on a religious subject matter and a landscape painting. For example, I personally admire works by Mary Tonkin, but I question the validity of including her painting as a finalist in the prize, for it is no different to the works that are currently on display at the Australian Galleries. Same comment applies to the entries by Martin King; Janine Mackintosh; or Kate Briscoe.

BO 2010 Chris O'DohertyI wish to see more contemporary interpretations of the Old and New Testaments, like those in the works by Robert Dickerson and Christopher O’Doherty; more interpretations of the lives of the Saints such as those by Andrew Mezei and Peter Neilson; or such truly inspiring and meditative installations like those by Janine Whitling and Heather Elyard. As I mentioned above, it is great to see works by Indigenous artists included; but where are representations of other religions from the Middle East, Asia, andSouth-East Asia, who all have rich and diverse iconographic traditions? Last but not least, where are any depictions of Australian or international religious leaders – or does the prize specifically proscribe the inclusion of portraits of the very people who ensure the survival and perpetuation of religion and spirituality?

BP 2010 Janine Whitling

One of the biggest problems that I see with this Prize is its pointlessness. It only encourages creation of religious art (or pretending that you make some) for the sole purpose of enticing works into the competition with a promise of a cash award. There is no life for religious artworks beyond the prize, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest reasons why so many artists eschew the challenge of creating an artwork especially for the Blake.

BP 2010 Andrei MezeiWhen we consider portrait prizes, such as Archibald, Moran, or others, chances are paintings that were created especially for these exhibitions (and many are) might be acquired by national and state institutions, or by the sitters, their families and friends, or crazed and cashed-up fans. Landscape, still-life, and general art prizes have likewise a broader appeal with a likelihood of the works by winners or finalists being acquired by public and institutions, or, in the case of an acquisitive award, even by the prize-giving entity itself (i.e. Doug Moran, Arthur Guy, Savage Club, etc).

BP 2010 Cath BraidWhen it comes to religious art, we may have to think back to the nineteenth-century France, where a revival of religious art was experienced between 1830s and 1870s, precisely because the government offered a wide support for religious painting and sculpture, and spent substantial amounts of money on acquiring religious artworks either from the annual Salon or directly from artists’ studios, which were then placed with a religious institution (unless specifically acquired for a public collection).

I pray someone would prove me wrong, but there is no such program in existence inAustralia. Furthermore, religious institutions and places of worship are very unlikely to acquire anything from exhibitions like these, filled with half-hearted transmutations on the subject of religion (though they do commission ‘proper’ works on religious subject matter from artists like this year’s winner, Leonard Brown, or stained-glass artist and sculptor Janusz Kuzbicki).

BP 2010 Paul JacksonSo, once again, what is the purpose of the Blake Prize, in its current form, apart from a self-serving and self-perpetuating exercise that is not being treated seriously and with due respect by the artists who submit their works to it, or by the judges who seem to accept so blindly and indiscriminately anything that is thrown their way – as the current exhibition of the finalists shows?


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

1 Response to “The Blake Prize 2011 – Part II”

  1. 1 Janine Whitling
    August 18, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Thanks for the vote of support and appreciation. I would ask though that you cite work details on images used if not asking for permission of usage. Name and title under the image is all that’s needed. Thanks for your understanding! Janine Whitling

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

April 2011


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