Words: Charlotte Middleton
Created in response to the Black Summer bushfires and their aftermath, Richard Lewer’s charcoal drawing titled 2020 has been awarded this year’s Paul Guest Prize for Drawing. The New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist said that visiting areas in Victoria affected by the fires provided the inspiration for the drawing.
“There were so many horrific images in the media depicting the personal, community and environmental losses you couldn’t help but be impacted by the enormity even safely far away in the city,” says the artist. “I felt the need to visit some of these communities in East Gippsland, Victoria, in the aftermath of the fires to grasp the sobering reality of confronting disaster and loss. This drawing depicts people in an urban setting wearing face masks, cities beset by smoke pollution and ash, soon to be plagued by the outbreak of covid-19.”
A diverse artist working across video, animation, painting, drawing and performance, Lewer was the 63rd recipient of the Blake Prize for Religious Art and the winner of the 2016 Basil Sellers Art Prize. Guest judge Lesley Harding, Artistic Director of Heide Museum of Modern Art, said Lewer’s work serves both as a snapshot and a summary of the year’s redirection.
“The masked figures are silenced, motionless and yet simmering with a palpable anxiety that is intensified by the field of thousands of lines that give the picture its dissident energy. This is a powerful drawing loaded with portent and very much of its times; part observation and large part pithy and incisive social commentary,” she said.
A biennial award and exhibition, The Paul Guest Prize aims to support the important medium of drawing in contemporary art practice across Australia. “This is a popular event that highlights the ongoing relevance of the medium of drawing, and the result is always exceptional and wide-ranging,” commented Jessica Bridgfoot, Director of Bendigo Art Gallery. “This year we see embroidered textiles, text-based and digital works, as well as more traditional forms, and each revealing exceptional skill.”
Initiated by former Family Court Judge and Olympic rower, The Honourable Paul Guest OAM QC, the prize involves a non-acquisitive cash award of $15,000.
The award exhibition runs at Bendigo Art Gallery until 7 February 2021. People’s Choice Award voting closes 5pm on 6 February and the winner will be announced on 7 February 2021.
Lewer is represented by Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney; Hugo Michell, Adelaide; and Suite Gallery, Wellington and Auckalnd.
Image: Richard Lewer, 2020, 2020. Charcoal on museum rag board, 100 x 150cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney.