The Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019 winners

Sydney-based actor and artist Liam Nunan with his portrait of fellow actor Jonny Hawkins is The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019 Winner of WA’s premier portrait prize – The Lester Prize; receiving $50,000 cash donated by founding sponsor The Lester Group, plus two economy class return tickets to any Singapore Airlines destination valued at $7,320.

Winner,The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019: Liam Nunan Jonny Hawkins, 2019, oil on canvas, 45 x 61cm

‘Jonny’s spontaneous, curious nature and ability to make bold plans on a whim without fear of consequence, has led to some of his greatest successes and adventures. For his portrait, I had musings of disco balls with Jonny in his best party dress drinking Prosseco from the bottle, surrounded by the noise and movement of his devoted dance floor congregation. My first study of him settled into something quieter. Before Jonny came out as gay, he had a very different trajectory. He grew up in a conservative religious family and was even ordained as a pastor. Living the life we want can come at a great cost. Irrespective of whether we have regrets (or not), many of us sacrifice a life lived freely and as authentically as we desire. Inspired by some religious iconography, I hoped to convey a small moment of contemplative reflection – a sense of fortitude and a reconciling with the past.’ – Liam Nunan

The 2019 judging panel – Jaklyn Babington, Melissa Harpley and Professor Ted Snell, commented about Nunan’s winning work: ‘Like all good portrait’s Liam Nunan’s sensitive portrayal of his friend Jonny Hawkins reveals just enough to encourage us to search for more. And there is more! Jonny’s introspective, downcast gaze, the somber palette the brooding expressions are tantalising lures that draw us closer to this man. We want to know more about his relationship with Liam and how this document of their friendship materialised.

The artist’s statement is another intriguing hook. How do we reconcile this ‘moment of reflective contemplation’ with Jonny’s ‘infectious grin’ and ‘love of disco’? Although new to painting, Liam is attuned to the humanity of his subject, and that makes him a worthy winner of this important prize.’

Winner, Tony Fini Foundation Artist Prize: Lori Pensini Banksia grandis – love begets love, 2019, oil on linen, 230 x 130cm

The $10,000 Tony Fini Foundation Artist Prize (selected by artists’ peers) was awarded to Lori Pensini from Boyup Brook WA for her portrait Banksia grandis—love begets love.

The winners of the two highly commended prizes were Jeff Bryant for his work Lazarus and Nicole O’Loughlin for her work The artist Mother is present. They each receive $1,000 cash, $250 Oxlades Art Supplies plus one economy class return ticket to any Singapore Airlines destination valued at $3,660.

Visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) to view the works of all 40 finalists, on show until 9 December 2019. Don’t forget to vote for your favourite work in the $7,500 Baldock Family People’s Choice Award, to be announced on 11 December 2019.

This year’s works reveal stories of self-reflection, struggle over hardship and unique insights from self-portraits to people who have played a significant part in the artists’ lives. Dunja Rmandić, AGWA’s Associate Curator 21st Century Arts, who also curated the exhibition and was part of the Pre-Selection Panel said: ‘The works in this year’s exhibition surprise with unusual reflection between the artist and the sitter, creating moments of quietude and intimacy. While a lot of the works are self-portraits, other subjects are cultural shifters, creative types and special people rather than celebrities. This subtle portrayal of the ‘human’ over the ‘hero’ draws the viewer into their personal stories of relationships, self-reflection – of personal plight and of life.’