Sarah Tomasetti wins the John Leslie Art Prize 2020

Melbourne-based artist Sarah Tomasetti has won the John Leslie Art Prize 2020, one of Australia’s most prestigious prizes for landscape painting; announced by Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Cr Alan Hall in the Gippsland Art Gallery’s first virtual opening, posted online on Friday 24 July. Tomasetti takes home the $20,000 first prize, and her winning work, selected by judges Simon Gregg (Gallery Director) and Erin Matthews (Gallery Curator) from a field of 50 finalists, will be automatically acquired for the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Sarah Tomasetti, Kailash from the Air, 2019, oil and incision on fresco plaster, 220 x 130cm. Courtesy the artist, Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney, and Beaver Galleries, Canberra. WINNER John Leslie Art Prize 2020

Tomasetti’s enigmatic painting Kailash from the Air (2019) depicts the sacred Tibetan mountain Kailash from a high perspective, painted using the Renaissance method of oil and incision on fresco plaster. The work explores the artist’s concern for the Earth’s changing natural environment, writing:

‘The Tibetan plateau is melting, in some places up to ten times faster than the poles. All the river systems of South Asia originate here, pouring over the edge of the roof of the world and sustaining one-third of the worlds’ population. And so research into the climate dynamics of the region increasingly aligns with the centuries-old belief amongst Buddhists and Hindus that Mt Kailash is the navel of the world and the source of all life.

‘Mt Kailash has never been climbed, but from a drone or a plane we can see this sacred peak from above, and so this work hovers at the dawn of the Anthropocene, an age in which a human gaze can penetrate all corners of the globe, a colonising force without compare.’

The work, highly meticulous and atmospheric, and using a limited colour palette, is described as ‘magical’ by Gregg; ‘The painting is a dazzling tour-de-force that draws you in. The handling and application of the oil paint into wet fresco is exemplary, and the subject is a timely one with the changing climate and the need for increasing respect of our planet’s finite resources. The more one looks at the painting, the more we find within it, and it continues to unfold before our eyes.’

Fish Creek-based artist Linda Gibbs was awarded Best Gippsland Work, for her Untitled painting. The large oil on linen work impressed the judges, who praised the work for its gentle luminosity, sparse but expert handling of paint, and the strangely inviting subject. Gibbs was awarded $1,000 in her category. Both winning artists said they were “thrilled” to be selected from a very strong field of finalists this year.

The exhibition of 50 finalists is currently on display at the Gippsland Art Gallery until 25 October. Visitors are invited to submit their favourite to the People’s Choice Award online.