Anita Johnson takes out Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize

The artist joins an illustrious list of winners and has bagged a significant prize for her efforts.

Words: Erin Irwin

The Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, now in its 22nd year, is an acquisitive prize awarded to a sculptural work measuring less than 80cm. Hosted by Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf, winning works enter the council’s permanent public collection as examples of aesthetic innovation and originality. This year’s winner was selected from 610 entries, with participating artists including Anna May Kirk, Jamie North, Juz Kitson, Kendal Murray, Kenny Pittock, Kyra Mancktelow, Madisyn Zabel, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Mylyn Nguyen and Orson Heidrich.

The sculpture that impressed the judges most in the prize’s 2023 edition was Cultural Cradle by Anita Johnson. Constructed from a salvaged cricket ball and reborn through additions of moulded leather, linen thread and possum fur, the work exudes a sense of comfort and compassion for discarded objects.

Of her win, Johnson expresses “My heartfelt deep gratitude for this support. This award will give me some much-needed financial breathing space to run with ideas for new artworks. But more than that this recognition touches my heart in profound ways that has surprised me and brought me to joyful tears. There has been much dancing and whooping around my house with my son.”

This year’s judges included artist Alex Seton, who said that “Johnson’s winning artwork Tenderness is a beautifully observed and crafted work that surprises and delights with its empathy and humour. It somehow seems to sum up what it is to be Australian in its sweet pathos and tragedy. All this achieved within a confident intimate small scale in the best manner of Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize winners.”

Blak Douglas and Dr Kate Harrison were also judges in this year’s prize, and all three were extremely impressed by the calibre of the 2023 entrants. ““The 50 works displayed within this exhibition are absolutely outstanding”, said Harrison, “from some of the most interesting Indigenous work, to sculptures startling in conceptualization and craft, I have been amazed by the ingenuity and talent presented by the artists as part of the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize this year.”

Alongside Johnson, the works of three other artists were recognised, with Robert Michael Young receiving the Special Commendation Award, and Nathan Beard’s work Corsage earning him a special Judges’ Award. Jamie North was selected for the Mayor’s Award, with Woollahra Mayor Richard Shields saying of his nomination that he was “particularly drawn to Jamie North’s artwork, Remainder No.52.”, saying “it spoke to me of decay and that out of decay comes growth, life and hope. Congratulations to Jamie on a fantastic piece”.

The work of all finalists will be on display until Sunday 5 November, with many participating artists scheduled to hold talks and discussions across the length of the exhibition.

This article was posted 29 September 2023.

Image: Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize 2023 judges Blak Douglas and Alex Seton with Gallery Director Pippa Mott with winning work, Cultural Cradle, by Anita Johnson. Photo: Havard Sagen. Courtesy: the artist and Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf, Sydney.

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