The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize is firmly established on Australia’s art calendar, eagerly anticipated by artists and the public. The Moran Health Care Group, as major sponsor of the Prizes, is proud to be associated with this important cultural event. Our commitment to the arts as patrons of the Moran Arts Foundation and our passion for encouraging the creative vision of Australian artists mirrors their own passion for artistic excellence. We would like to thank our judges, art historian Doug Hall, Founder of the Moran Arts Foundation Greta Moran and artist Anne Wallace, who brought their considerable knowledge and aesthetic expertise to a difficult task. We would also like to give special thanks to the artists who entered the Prize. It is your commitment to what the Moran Prize represents that is the biggest marker of it’s success.
The Portrait and Time – By Angus Trumble 2015 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize – Judge
When a portrait leaves the artist’s studio for the first time and the paint is not yet completely dry, the artist and the sitter and the finished work are never again in closer alignment. Time sets to work.
By degrees the artist moves on to other things; the sitter will age, and the life cycle of the portrait may well outlast both – and with luck remain the only residue in history of that original encounter between living artist and cooperative subject in fruitful dialogue. At the very least all three will gradually diverge and go their separate ways.
In a portrait prize exhibition, these processes have hardly begun. For the judge, or preferably judges, that newness, that proximity, can be both a help and a hindrance. Responding to complaints that his now famous portrait of Gertrude Stein bore little or no resemblance to his redoubtable subject, Pablo Picasso is said to have remarked, “Don’t worry, it will.” He meant, of course, not only that Miss Stein would in time come far more closely to resemble his portrait of her, but also that its ambitious claim to greatness as a work of art would eventually and inevitably propel the portrait into the strange situation of being her surrogate.
All judges differ, but in my case the vibrancy and authenticity of the encounter between artist and sitter counts for a great deal. No doubt some portrait sittings are livelier and more garrulous than others. Others will hint toward remoteness or introspection – this is far more likely in the case of self-portraits – but the capacity of a portrait to convey a sense of real dialogue, and in which the subject is an active participant, is, I think, greatly enhanced when the encounter happened over a palpable length of time and in shared space. Time and space, after all, are the conditions without which a portrait cannot make any sort of claim upon our attention. That it can continue to do so in our time, decades after critics began to ring the death knell of painting itself, attests to the fundamental humanity of the genre.
In a way he was quite right. Judges are at times challenged in similar ways by the more general view that any such judgements are invidious with respect to a crop of portraits that are conjoined only by the fact that they happen to have been painted recently. What makes one portrait best among a handful of others, among which there is much variety in scale, handling, approach, texture, and so on? The principle of chacun à son goût, and the impossibility of applying rigorously objective criteria are both invoked by critics of this process. However, those of us who work in art museums are required to make such judgements every day. We do so when we choose one work over another for inclusion in an exhibition, for example, or recommend one work out of several for purchase. Indeed, our trustees and our governments rely upon us to exercise that type of judgement, especially when we are entrusted with public monies.
2015 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize – Judge