For the first time since 2012, the prestigious Dobell Drawing Prize was awarded on March 27 in a glittery ceremony at the National Art School in Darlinghurst. Previously part of the Archibald Prize, the now-standalone award attracted the doyens of the Sydney art world, but the true star of the night was the art adorning the walls, breathing life into the gallery space and the centrepiece of all conversation.
This year’s Dobell Drawing Prize was judged by three artists. Painter Ben Quilty, mixed media artist Michelle Belgiorno and printmaker Simon Cooper comprised the panel, which selected Photogenic Drawing by Justine Varga as the winning artwork. We spoke to Belgiorno, a trustee of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation, who shared her insights into the judging process and the revamped Dobell Prize.
From our conversation, it was clear that judging the works was a mindboggling feat. The panel viewed 800 works and each selected their own individual shortlist of 60 works. They then spent two days collaboratively narrowing down their individual selections to the 57 final works. Reflecting the intrinsically subjective quality of art, Belgiorno revealed that between the judges, just seven works were mutually selected by all three. Enlivening the walls of the National Art School, the final 57 works by artists from all states displayed the breadth and high quality of artistic talent present in Australia.
On what motivated and informed their decision-making process, Belgiorno said that the judges considered “technical skill, the passion that comes out, works that were really created with commitment, different approaches to drawing and different mediums.”
The works reflected the diversity of medium and method that comprise contemporary drawing, and some pushed the boundaries of what is traditionally classified as drawing. Kristone Capistrano’s striking The Sleep of Filippi Castillo, showcasing the artist’s talented manipulation of charcoal and pastel to create a beautifully haunting effect, was hung alongside Suzanne Archer’s Messenger Marks, which at first appeared to be metalwork sculptures until one drew closer to the work and its intricate etchings became apparent.
Varga’s work skilfully and creatively amalgamated chromogenic photographs with drawing. Quilty said of Varga’s work, “the artist uses drawing in such a dynamic, experimental and exciting way and it blew me away”, and went on to label it “a clear winner.”
With Varga’s winning work setting the precedent for the years to come, the future of the Dobell Prize looks exceedingly bright. Moreover, Belgiorno’s vision for the Prize, that it continues to be an inclusive platform for artists both known and unknown to have their works celebrated and professionally exhibited, looks to be realised. Judging by the quality of this year’s submissions, the Dobell Prize is on course to continue in vein of this meritocratic spirit to carve out its place in the art world as a standard of aspiration.