Winners of The Lester Prize – WA’s premier portrait prize


Serena Cowie (VIC) with her portrait The conversation, depicting her good friends Maria Arvanitis and Alexandra Perrott, has won the 2020 winner of The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture for WA’s premier fine art prize – The Lester Prize; receiving $50,000 cash donated by founding partner, Lester Group.


‘My two sitters, Lexie and Maria, and myself, come from a generation where success and influence are determined by what is posted on social media. I see success as a journey that will far outlive the phenomena of Instagram or Twitter—unlike a photo, it is not instantaneous. Success is like a painting—a slow process that involves mistakes, setbacks and accidents. It is hoped the result will be a masterpiece of lessons and perseverance articulated through layers of brushstrokes. I admire Lexie and Maria because they are destined for success through their hard work—they are both masterpieces.’ – Serena Cowie, The Conversation


The judging panel comprised AGWA’s Guest Artistic Director Ian Strange, Art Historian and Professor Dr Clarissa Ball and Director of John Curtin Gallery Chris Malcolm. Of the winning work, the trio said: ‘the polished execution of The conversation and the portrayal of the intimacy between these two larger-than-life women, offer a compelling insight into the nature of friendship in an era of social and digital media. The exquisitely refined facture of this painting is perfectly attuned to the temporal sensibilities of our technological age.’

‘As an emerging artist,’ says Cowie, ‘you do face a lot of doubt and at times rejection, but this award is the greatest piece of encouragement for my career as an artist. To be celebrated with such a prestigious prize is unbelievable. This prize money presents opportunities that I could have only ever dreamed of. It will give me the freedom to just paint and hone my practice. It gives me the support and stability to produce an exhibition and find a studio other than my parents’ living room.’

Additional winners:

Tony Fini Foundation Artist Prize of $10,000 (selected by artists’ peers) was awarded to Sebastian Galloway (TAS) for his portrait of Pirrin Francis titled Warm air, cool light.

Minderoo Foundation Spirit Award of $10,000 (selected by Minderoo Foundation) was awarded to Stacey Evangelou (NSW) with her portrait of Joe Williams titled Warrior by spirit.

Ashurst Emerging Artist (selected by our judges) $5,000 is Kierah Falkner Babbel (VIC) with her portrait of Robyn Babbel and Karl Babbel titled Race car ya ya.

Two Highly Commended Prizes were awarded to Daevid Anderson (WA) for his portrait of Andrew Nicholls titled The dying slave – study; and Joshua Cocking (WA) with his portrait of Franque Batty titled Making plants – a portrait of Franque. They each take home $1,000 cash, a $550 domestic art transport voucher, $500 framing voucher and $250 art supplies voucher.


‘Either directly facing or gently filtering the challenges and changes that impacted us all in 2020, we see in this year’s The Lester Prize a community of artists who are turning inwards – to their lounge rooms and loved ones, their rituals and routines – to create a timely, deeply personal and powerfully poignant image of our shared human condition.’ – Curator Rachel Ciesla


The works of all 40 finalists – portraits of an Australian, or Australians, that they respect or admire, or a self-portrait – can be viewed online or in person at the Art Gallery of Western Australia from 31 October to 29 November 2020. The $10,000 People’s Choice Prize, donated by the Baldock Family, is voted by the general public throughout the month-long exhibition. Voting is available at The Lester Prize exhibition or online at with the announcement of the winner to take place on 2 December 2020.