The gentle strokes of recognition

The gentle strokes of recognition

The face of Canberran artist Dianne Fogwell will probably prove familiar sight for judges of the prestigious Portia Geach Memorial Award this evening because in the past 27 years her image has been hung in the finals no less than five times.

This time however, she is also the artist and her image everyday is an oil on gesso self-portrait, that displays the many elements of her life.

Artist Dianne Fogwell who is a finalist in the prestigeous Portia Geach art prize works in her art studio.

Artist Dianne Fogwell who is a finalist in the prestigeous Portia Geach art prize works in her art studio.Credit:Colleen Petch

The painting conveys a sense of movement through the use of a multi-layering technique applied to the many components of the painting, from the fluttering moths that flit about the work to the inclusion of numerous cups of coffee and tea.

''In this self portrait I wanted to observe and collect those elements of the natural environment which surround me - leaves, flowers and moths and the ordinary things and weave them together into a narrative that brought an emphasis to the mystery and beauty of everyday life,'' she says.


''It is eclectic, it is about the moments in between the elements.''

Fogwell is one of four Canberra region artists who have been selected for the finals of the Portia Geach Prize.

Fogwell herself sat for a portrait by artist Gwen Eicher in 1985, which was entered in the Portia Geach and won the competition that year.

Fogwell had sat for four artists in one session and, unknown to her at the time, all paintings were entered in the prize and all were hung.

''I went along and I was standing in this room looking at four versions of myself,'' she says.

Her new self-portrait reveals a matured Fogwell, with the inclusions of her husband and two sons as well as a packet of tablets that swirl around the bottom of the portrait blending in with other hidden gems such as the tea pot over on the left hand side.

''I had a heart attack this year and so yes the tablets are part of my life and I wanted to include those things that sort of tell my story,'' she says.

Storytelling has been a major theme for each of the Canberra finalists, with many striving to imbue their works with the essence of the subject's life, work and personality.

Margaret Hadfield, who had a work hung in the 2009 finals of the Portia Geach Prize, has submitted a painting of Australian basketballer Lauren Jackson for this year's event.

''I really wanted to paint an inspiring woman because I recognised that very few women were being painted for this prize except for the self portraits,'' she says.

''I had seen Lauren Jackson play at the Key Arena in Seattle in the US and the US has really adopted her.

''People in the crowd were calling out 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi' and she was named the most valuable player three years in a row over there.

''But she was not that well known in Australia [in 2011] and I felt she needed more recognition and obviously they felt the same way at the Olympics because they gave her the flag bearer role.

''She sat for the portrait at the end of last year and I found her to be a very shy person in real life - but ferocious on the court.''

The Portia Geach Memorial Award has an $18,000 prize pool and it is open to Australian women artists who painted portraits from life of men or women who were distinguished in art, letters or the sciences.

''This is a prize for women artists and you still find that not many women are painted, where as I think there should be,'' Hadfield says.

Hall based artist Judi Power Thomson painted Robyn Archer, the creative director for the Centenary of Canberra, for the prize.

The work is titled Live Wire and it seeks to convey a sense of energy and vibrancy that Power Thompson immediately recognised in her subject.

''The greatest challenge with this work, after meeting Robyn, was how to best represent this intense, energetic, wildly creative artistic person and involve the viewer in her life,'' she says. ''How was I to get the message across and let the viewer know about the many roles she has played?''

The result is a work of contrasts, there is great detail given to Archer's face, forearms and hands, but her body is closer to a cartoon - an outline highlighted with vibrant streaks of neon that symbolise energy.

The details return to the portrait in a chain of paper dolls that Archer holds by one hand. Each of the dolls represent the different roles she has played in her theatre productions.

Another highly recognisable Canberra face has also been hung in this year's Portia Geach Prize - that of metal sculptor, Michael Le Grand, who was the head of sculpture at the Australian National University School of Art for many years and is now retired.

It was painted by Bungendore artist Kerry McInnis, who painted him in his workshop, dressed in blue overalls.

''I really wanted to paint somebody from Canberra because I feel that these awards can be very Sydney and Melbourne-centric,'' she says.

''There is a lot going on in the Canberra art scene and I don't think that is known about nationally.

''Michael Le Grand has exhibited in Sculptures by the Sea about 15 times and he also has a really warm personality and a very generous face and I aimed to show that in the portrait.''


■ The prize exhibition is being held at the S.H. Ervin Gallery, The Rocks, until November 4.

The winner of the 2012 Portia Geach will be revealed tonight.

Most Viewed in Entertainment