The winners of the prestigious Lester Prize have been announced and are currently hosting several exhibitions across the CBD, including in the historical Centenary Galleries at the Art Gallery of WA, and outdoors at Brookfield Place and Perth Cultural Centre.

If you’re unfamiliar with the award, the WA-based Lester Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious art awards, recognising excellence in portraiture from emerging, established and professional artists. Established back in 2007 as the Black Swan Prize for Portraiture, the awards notoriety has grown to great heights with a prize pool nearing $100,000; a massive jump-start for any young or emerging artist. With such winnings at stake, the finalists are chosen by an independent pre-selection panel completely unaware of the entrant’s name, gender, location, or any demographics at all in order to ensure no bias in selection.

The competition is split between a main prize for adults and a youth prize for school-aged kids, with the latter being further split into three age categories; years 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12. Artists from across the country were invited to submit one or more self-portraits or portraits of someone they admire, either from a photograph of their subject (to respect social distancing laws) or from their subject sitting for them in person.

As with most portraiture, the artworks are all paintings and although the subject of the works are all similar in nature, the artists have taken their own creative licence to individualise their work. What we’re left with is a massive range of styles, from a black-and-white, straight-on portrait to highlight Aboriginal culture, to a bright and colourful portrait of an elderly couple gazing into each others’ eyes.

To celebrate crowning the winners for each category, the CBD is abound with exhibitions and events to showcase the high level calibre of entries, displaying the works of the winners, finalists and semi-finalists.

The main exhibition will showcase the 40 finalists’ original portraits chosen from a whopping 750 entries across Australia, breaking the record for most entries for the awards ever. Held in the Centenary Galleries at AGWA until November 29, the exhibition will also feature the winning pieces, including the winner of the Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2020, The conversation, which earned artist Serena Cowie a $50,000 prize.

For those keen to see the artists of tomorrow, aka the finalists and winners of the Youth Awards, you can catch the outdoor exhibitions showcased on 2.4m outdoor exhibition boxes sprinkled around at both Tower 2 Lobby at Brookfield Place (opening during business hours until Friday, November 27) and just outside of AGWA at Perth Cultural Centre. As the latter is in an open-air, public space, punters can peruse the works at any time of the day and night, embodying a 24-7 exhibition (held until Sunday, November 29). In a big win for WA’s emerging artists, Sarah Hoey from Kalamunda Senior High School and Cindy Wang from Applecross Senior High School took home the prizes for the year 11-12 and year 9-10 categories, respectively.

In the interest of sharing the love, some of the semi-finalists for the adult category will join in on the exhibition outside AGWA, transforming Northbridge and the CBD into a bit of a walking artwork trail. Hilariously dubbed ‘Salon des Refusés’, the aim is to showcase the incredible art that just didn’t quite make the cut as finalists, but are otherwise interesting, witty and of course, high quality. The idea of the ‘Salon des Refusés’ originated in Paris in the nineteenth century when works by Avant Garde artists were not accepted into traditional gallery exhibitions, leading to artists setting up their own alternative exhibitions for the public to see.

Although the main prize has been handed down, entries for the Baldock Family People’s Choice Prize are running until Wednesday, December 2, allowing for the public (and perhaps not so artistically inclined) to have their say online. For those interested in making their decision after delving into the deep waters of discovering the meaning behind the works, AGWA is hosting free guided tours every Wednesday at 12-1pm , every Thursday at 11am-12pm and every Saturday and Sunday at 1-2pm over the course of the exhibition.

Or, if you pop in on Friday November 27 between 11-11.30am, you’ll have the pleasure of catching a free artist talk from finalists Jill Ansell and Wade Taylor. If you are interstate or overseas and keen to check it out, don’t fret! An online exhibition has been set up so you can virtually walk through the gallery, admire the artistry and vote for your favourite, should you choose.

For those more into participating in the art experience, The Lester Prize are hosting two free live art pop-ups events at Yagan Square on Saturday, November 21 and Forrest Place on Saturday, November 28. Fringeworld comedian Joe White has been called in as the sitter for a group of Lester Prize alumni painters in an afternoon of live portraiture for the first Saturday, with the winner (chosen by the sitter) scoring an overnight stay at the boutique Alex Hotel.

The second Saturday is aimed at any young artists keen to have a go at live portraiture themselves, presented in collaboration with Propel Youth Arts WA and alternative Perth band Joan and the Giants, and front-woman Grace Newton-Wordsworth nominated as sitter. Grace will present as the portraiture subject for a two hour period, and emerging artists between 12-26 years old will have the pleasure of painting her, with all materials provided. To give our artists a break, Grace will play a few songs over the session. Bookings are recommended but not essential; find more information on the events here.

The full list of Lester Prize winners can be found here, or you can spot them at AGWA’s exhibition until November 29. To celebrate the opening of the new WA Museum Boola Bardip, AGWA will remain open until 7pm from Fri Nov 27 – Sun Nov 29.


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