Zoe Young portrait of snowboarder Torah Bright to hang in Canberra Airport
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Zoe Young portrait of snowboarder Torah Bright to hang in Canberra Airport

Snowboarding superstar Torah Bright has one of the best known faces of Australia's winter Olympians. But when artist Zoe Young chose the talented athlete for a portrait, she was looking for something new.

The striking portrait that resulted was enough to propel Young's work into the finals of the 2014 Archibald Prize, and on Friday was acquired by Canberra Airport.

Zoe Young says her portrait of Torah Bright reflects the drive that propels young athletes.

Zoe Young says her portrait of Torah Bright reflects the drive that propels young athletes.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

Managing Director Stephen Byron said the painting would be a wonderful addition to the airport.

"It's an absolutely beautiful painting. It's hugely evocative … and it builds on our collection of sculptures," he said.

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The portrait of Torah Bright.

The portrait of Torah Bright.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

"We're the gateway to the city, but we're part of telling the story of what is the city beyond when you come through our gateway."

The painting, in acrylic on ply and sized 140 by 122 centimetres, came together because of the close connections Ms Young had with Torah.

As an avid ski racer before she started her degree at the National Art School in Sydney, Ms Young says she first met the Bright family while training in the Snowy Mountains.

"The [Australian] Institute of Sport use to run a camp in Jindabyne so as kids we were always racing together on the camp, so you'd actually live there together. It was kind of like 'ski boarding school'," she said.

"Rowena Bright, Torah's older sister was there with me as was Ben Bright. I knew them from a young age and trained with them."

It was Torah's younger sibling Abish who helped pave the way for the painting when she organised for the two to meet."The hairdresser in Jindabyne is Abby Bright [and] I was sitting there and we were talking about Torah and I was talking about where I was going with my [current] painting … and then I thought 'wait a second, can you hook me up [with her]?'"

She says the mood of the painting is meant to reflect the drive that propels young athletes, an experience she knows well having travelled to Europe as a teenager to race.

"With Torah's painting I kind of know a bit about the discipline and the endurance and also the isolation. It's pretty difficult when you're over the other side of the world, especially when you're a teenager."

But her experiences over there, of being drawn more to the beauty of cities like Prague than to her own training, forced her to re-evaluate what she wanted to do.

"I thought: I think I want to travel the world, but I think I want to do it as an artist not as an athlete because I realised the discipline and the sacrifices. I decided when I was a teenager that I loved some aspects of being an athlete, but I really didn't want to sacrifice my art for it."

The move seems to have paid off however, with another painting of Zoe's making it to the finals of this year's Archibald Prize.

That painting, of Indigenous fashion model Samantha Harris, has also come together through close connections, with her friend and model Anneliese Seubert helping for them to meet.

"It's the Snowy Mountains connection. It's a great place to grow up. Anneliese grew up in Cooma, same as Torah, and her dad's a hairdresser too, so maybe it's hairdressers and snow?"<!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><!--[endif]-->

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