Words: Andrew Frost
Portraits: The artist
Now in its 21st year, the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship is not just a desirable prize for an artist to win. The three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and $40,000 to pursue art education in Europe is also considered an indicator of a promising early career. Using funds first set aside by Beryl Whiteley to the memory her late son, the artist Brett Whiteley, the prize regularly attracts serious painting talent. Among past winners are Ben Quilty, Alan Jones, Amber Wallis, Mitch Cairns, Tom Polo and Natasha Walsh.
Joining this illustrious line up is 2019’s winner Jack Lanagan Dunbar, who took the coveted prize for his series Pantheon. The series combines personal experiences and memories with references to ancient mythology and figures from antiquity, resulting in paintings that explore abstraction and mark making.
Like many of Australia’s art awards, the Brett Whiteley Scholarship is judged by an artist. For 2019, that role was undertaken by painter Gemma Smith. “Jack’s paintings are sumptuous and poetic,” she says. “I was drawn to the way his paintings are at once deeply thoughtful and spontaneous. Full of allusions to classical mythology, while simultaneously caught up in the moment, with the immediacy of mark making.”
Working across a variety of forms and media, Dunbar’s work explores what he describes as a combination of the “…tension between materiality and time with an eye on history, whimsy, archaeology, the classical, Romanticism, humour and tragedy”. He uses a variety of materials in his paintings, including patina, acrylic paint, vinyl-based paint, chinagraph and lacquer on copper sheets.
Of this variety of approaches, Smith says that the artist “…uses a confounding combination of materials – the result is fascinating and alchemical. He has already developed a strong art practice and I’m sure that an extended period in Europe will have an extraordinary impact on his work.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 91, JAN – MAR 2020.