Eyes Are Windows to the Soul. Staring into Souls at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

This post follows on from a previous post describing the equally fascinating subject matter and photographic skill of the 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Right next door to the dazzling photographic portraits is the Darling Portrait Prize.

When too many portraits are never enough? Gaze on…

In their promotional material, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) says that “each portrait is the result of an encounter between the sitter and the artist, a meeting that often reveals a great deal about both”. I guess that is a pretty accurate statement when you consider that two people can look at the same thing and see something completely different.

Below I have borrowed the professional images and descriptions from the NPG website. Photography was allowed in the Gallery, but my photographs just did not do justice to the works. To see all 40 finalists, click here.

Winner: Elizabeth, 2019 by Anthea de Silva

Winner - Elizabeth - Darling Portrait Prize

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM, PhD has been described as the high priestess of Australian contemporary dance. I‘m inspired by her constant reinvention as dancer, choreographer, actor, director, and environmental activist. Mostly, my artwork spans drawing; painting in oils, acrylic and water-based mediums; and light box installation – and I often incorporate X-rays to reference the luminous and dynamic human body. Charcoal is a product of fire, and, similar to oils, I love how it washes over surfaces, how it blends and erases.  Here, Elizabeth is momentarily resting her feet at Mirramu Creative Arts Centre near Bungendore, preparing for her next adventure.

Finalist: Self Portrait #5, 2019 by Paul Newton

Finalist- Paul Newton - Darling Portrait Prize
Self Portrait

In this self-portrait I’ve tried to work in a very intuitive and spontaneous way, essentially letting the painting tell me what I needed to do at each stage of the process. I painted the whole thing very quickly – in just six hours – but then spent months refining it. During this time the challenge was to avoid overworking the painting; I wanted to maintain the freshness and looseness of a sketch. This is the fifth self-portrait I have painted, and I always find the process very liberating as there are no constraints or expectations.

I am the first to put my hand up to say that I do not have an artistic bone in my body. I am still scarred from a critique of my artwork when I was in 1st class at school (all of six years old) when we had to draw our mothers as a Mother’s Day gift. The feedback that sticks in my mind, all these years later, was the query asking why my mother’s hair was not actually attached to her head? Who knows the artistic workings of a 6-year-old mind, but I took it as a criticism and my fledgling artistic career was over before it started.

Finalist: Rhonda, 2019 by Denis O’Connor

Finalist- Rhonda - Darling Portrait Prize

My wife Rhonda has only recently retired from a long career as a well-respected and inspirational secondary school art teacher. Our friendship has survived for close to 50 years, and her portrait – explored through sketches, drawings and paintings – is part of an ongoing project that has been intrinsic to my studio practice for 20 years or so.

Finalist: Sunny Day, 2019 by Dalu Zhao

The subject in my portrait is my wife Xiaoxi Xia, and she agreed that I could submit the painting as an entry in the Darling Portrait Prize. I commenced the work with initial sketches and photographs of my wife by the seaside in 2019. I am an artist; I emigrated with my family from China to Australia in 2001, and I entered my work ‘Lao Fei’ Stephen FitzGerald in the Archibald Prize of 2003. It won the People’s Choice Award and was later (in 2011) acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. 

Finalist - Sunny Day - Darling Portrait Prize
Sunny Day

Due to Covid19, our visit to the NPG was restricted to only a couple of rooms on the ground floor. That was enough for me. Not being an artist, I just ambled from one painting to the next enjoying the work for its beauty and cleverness rather than any deep technical analysis.

Highly Commended & Winner of People’s Choice Award: Wendy Bowman, 2019 by David Darcy

Highly Commended - Wendy Bowman - Darling Portrait Prize
Wendy Bowman

Wendy Bowman is an 86 year-old farmer and environmentalist from Camberwell, in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. In 2017 Wendy was awarded the international Goldman Environmental Prize – the world’s pre-eminent environmental award for grassroots conservation – after she won a legal victory against mining company Yancoal, halting the development of a 315 hectare coal mine that would have consumed her farm. Wendy has endured three decades of battling the multinational mining companies that surround her property. She has been evicted and relocated, but continues to fight for the rights of landholders.

Highly Commended: The In Between, 2019 by Sibone Heary

Highly Commended - The In Between - Darling Portrait Prize
The In Between

The In Between examines the female experience beyond the facade of the public self. My paintings draw heavily on my own life as an artist, a friend, a mother, a partner, a daughter and more. I am always ‘on’, always moving, interacting, connecting and ‘smiling’. And then there are the in-between moments – the moments of solitude when I have a second to breathe and sit with my tired self. Sometimes I am happy, sometimes broken, and sometimes just content to sit still in the sunshine and stare at the walls.

I like the honesty of portraiture. Often the paintings zoom in on the face, showing the beauty and ravages of time – every hardship and sunburned day, every laughter line and tough time.

I was dazzled by the skill of the artists. Some works are so lifelike and almost photographic in style, while others let their abstract desires take flight. Every so often I did a double take and stood so close to the work my nose almost touched the glass. Was it really a painting and not a photograph?

Finalist: Carma, 2019 by Narelle Zeller

Finalist - Carma - Darling Portrait Prize

Carma and I grew up together in rural New South Wales. Her portrait is a celebration of our relationship, an attempt to express and share the beauty I see in her. I sought to portray Carma’s connection to and love of our environment and animals, as well as her generous, kind-hearted nature and strength. This portrait sparked a collaboration with Canberra floral artist Amy Clement, who created a personalised headpiece for the sitting. The headpiece contains unusual foraged elements, and explores and captures the beauty that can be found in familiar but unremarkable natural materials. The blue-tongue lizard, Fezzik, is one of Carma’s pets.

Finalist: Tim Winton, 2019 by Sally Robinson

Finalist - Tim Winton - Darling Portrait Prize
Tim Winton

West Australian Tim Winton is the author of 29 books, with his work translated into 28 languages. He has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award a record four times and has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Most of his novels have been adapted for stage and screen. Listed as a Living Treasure by the National Trust, Winton has long been active in the environmental and social justice spaces. The background text in this portrait is an extract from Winton’s essay ‘The Wait and the Flow’, from his autobiographical collection The Boy Behind the Curtain.

After all this creative input, a restorative coffee was in order. I joined the coffee shop queue of hip and groovy artistic types, feeling very out of place in my plain-Jane jeans and jumper. Note to self: buy big, bright, groovy glasses next time I am due at the optometrist.

If you still have an appetite for art after your viewing of the paintings, then swing into the equally hip and groovy retail space. It is full to the brim with art books, prints, quirky gifts and arts ephemera. Even if, like me, you can’t paint or draw you can take some art home with you.

Are you an art lover? And can you paint or draw?

More importantly, when you paint a portrait, does the hair attach to the person’s head?

The Basics

What: The Darling Portrait Prize is Australia’s new annual prize for painted portraits, with first prize valued at $75 000. Entry to the Gallery is free.

The Darling Portrait Prize sign

Where: King Edward Terrace, Parkes (a suburb of Canberra).

When: Open every day from 10am-5pm, except Christmas Day.

Why: To expose yourself to some quality art.

How: Book your tickets here. Car parking is available right next door in a small carpark or a larger carpark over at the National Gallery of Australia.

Who: Culture vultures, amateur artists, coffee and retail addicts.

Related Posts: The annual Archibald Prize is the Sydney destination for stunning portraits. Check out my visit there.

Related Blogs: Do you feel inspired to paint a portrait or two? Get all the inspiration and tips you need here.

Read About It: For a very beautiful and interesting read about painting and painting forgery, grab a copy of the novel The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. A fabulous and fascinating read. Available from Book Depository for AUD$28.57.

Map of the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

#canberra #travelinspo #nationalportraitgallery #painting #portraiture #laughterlines #art

24 thoughts on “Eyes Are Windows to the Soul. Staring into Souls at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

  1. Do you take people shots with your photography, Mel? It’s something I’m not brave enough for but it does produce some striking studies. I’ll go and have a look at the gallery now. Just as a matter of interest, have you seen this idea from Cadyluck Leedy? She doesn’t use social media so I can’t promote it on there. Didn’t know if you’d be interested? 🙂
    🙂 https://thecadyluckleedy.com/2021/02/03/just-one-person-from-around-the-world-balboa-spain/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I was interested Jo. Such an engaging post. Just as this is fascinating. It’s intriguing that we should find so much interest in portraits of people we don’t know, and never will. I’d love to see this exhibition. Great post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Margaret 🙂 🙂 I suggested Caddyluck to Sue because of her One series but she’s having difficulty commenting. Sorry, Mel- don’t mean to take over your slot 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. All good – love to see the sharing and the chatter! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      2. That is an interesting point you make Margaret about our fascination with people we don’t know. To me I like to see their lives written in their faces…or maybe that is my excuse for my own wrinkles! 🙂 Mel

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha! Excellent point.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Jo. Yes, I do like to take photos of people and always try to ask their permission before doing that. When I was in India it was a no-holds-barred approach as everyone wanted their photo taken with me!! Hilarious. Checked out the link and it is a wonderful concept, especially as the photo came after the ‘friendship’. Have a great day, Melx


  2. The winner is fabulous! Think I’ve seen it before. Love the flamboyant guy, balancing on the rails. Hope they checked the timetable 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Often the setting of the painting is as fascinating as the person featured. I am in awe of these artists and their skill…something I will never possess!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, some of those paintings really look like photo’s 😲.
    I think the ability to paint is one of the most rewarding talents one can have (just like playing a music instrument), and I’m afraid I have none of that! When we play the board game, Pictionary, nobody wants to be in my team 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh dear, it sounds like we have the same level of artistic ability!! 🙂 A big fat zero! 😉 But I bet we make up for it with enthusiasm!! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the whimsical Elizabeth portrait. People are not a favourite subject for me I much prefer nature. Might have something to do with the space I’m in 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Different things speak to us (or not) depending on our mindset and/or what we need and it sounds like you need something soothing. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Having said that about people, I went searching through my photographs. I had captured more people than I thought! Yep, less stress the better 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Maybe you have moved on from your ‘people’ phase! 🙂 Whatever makes you happy. Have a good day.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Have a good day too 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. jasonlikestotravel February 7, 2021 — 7:05 am

    These are wonderful! I’m not artistic in the slightest but can definitely appreciate other people’s talents. As you said in the post, some of them it’s hard to distinguish whether they’re actually paintings or not. Really cool!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and admiring. Perhaps in our next lives we will born with some artistic talent?? 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. jasonlikestotravel February 9, 2021 — 5:47 am

        Haha, here’s hoping!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Though not an art lover, per se, I did like the National Portrait Gallery in London and I like these, too.

    I do hope that thoughtless remark about your picture was made by a clueless and innocent classmate and not the teacher. It’s a good reminder about how the most seemingly offhand remark can make a lifelong and life-altering impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your support, however I have never been under any delusions about my ability to paint or draw! 🙂 Much better that I admire other’s work!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You should see my art. My stick figures would make you swoon!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sounds like we went to the same art school! 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

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