Putting On Their Bravest Faces

Steve Bevis, The West Australian Newspaper Wed March 1st, 2006

Putting On Their Bravest Faces

Perth’s painters have been flat-out putting the finishing licks of paint and packing tape on their entries for the est coast portrait prize season.

More than 100 WA Artists have entered this month’s race for the Moran Prize and the Archibald Prize, with many of them likely to enter both.

Prominent Artist Drewfus Gates is one of about 80 WA bees attracted to the $100,000 honey pot of the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

But it is more than the lucrative award that motivated the Darlington artist to submit The Joig is Up, a painting of his father Rodney playing the violin.

The work is a son’s way of honoring a father who, on the brink of his 80th birthday, is slowly losing his powers to dementia.

“He’s forgetting a few things about playing the violin,” Drewfus Gates said. “He’s dropping a few keys and his bow is bouncing and he’s dropping the violin from under his chin. He feels it and he resents it and it has thrown him into a turmoil. He’s being mentally tortured in the last phase of his life.”

The Gates family can trace a long line of accomplished violinists and luthiers. Drewfus played until he lost all the fingers on his lleft hand after being engulfed by scrub fire in the Gibson Desert in 2001.

He has entered the Doug Moran eight times and has been a finalist four times with the top prize tantalizing out of reach. He preferred the Moran over the more prestigious $35,000 Archibald Prize because the portrait had to be a good likeness without the exclusivity of being a well known figure, a condition of the Archibald.

Gates has already had one win, with his father overturning a lifetime of jocular criticism of his art by praising the portrait with: “It’s amazing how realistic you can get it.”

The Moran shortlist of 30 will be announced tomorrow, with the winner selected at the State Library of NSW on March 14.

Archibald Prize entrant Shannon Hamilton said it had taken her six years since she started painting full time to develop the confidence in portraiture to enter the high profile national award.

The Wembley artist conceded that the odds were stacked against her, not least because a WA Artist has never won the award in it’s 85-year history. But her painting of former WA Ballet star Benazir Surtees certainly fulfilled the Archibald brief of chossing a subject distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.

Hamilton said she loved ballet and had watched Surtees dance for years before she retired from the stage last year.

“I’ve always had a fascination with Degas’ ballerinas and always wanted to do my own. Only later when I asked her did I find out she was retiring.”

Hamilton’s latest exhibition, Intimate Liaisons, opens at Jah Roc Gallery in Margaret River on Saturday.

The Archibald Prize entries will be whittled down to about 30 on March 16, with the winner announced at the Art Gallery of NSW on March 24. Last year John Olsen won the work, Self Portrait Janus Faced.