19 October 2007

Sydney artist, Ben Quilty, has won the nation’s first self-portrait prize, officially announced at The University of Queensland Art Museum on October 20.

Quilty’s Self Portrait Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away) was selected from 30 entries judged by Andrew Sayers, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, and forms part of a special exhibition to accompany the $40,000 prize.

Artist, Margaret Olley, will buy the painting to donate to the "marvellous" UQ Art Museum.

Mr Sayers said the winning work was "a real tour de force".

"It shows extraordinary skill and maturity to paint a work in what are literally livid colours, with great visceral gobs of paint over just the primed canvas," he said.

"The work gives a compelling contemporary expression to one of the age-old themes in portraiture – the artist’s awareness of mortality. Sickness, frailty, ageing and death are significant subjects in the self-portraits of artists who are prepared to cast an unsentimental eye on themselves.

"It is a very worthy portrait from within a very fine selection of Australian contemporary self-portraits, to form the beginning of this initiative by The University of Queensland Art Museum."

A previous finalist in both the Archibald and Wynne prizes, Quilty is currently completing an Australia Council Studio Residency in Barcelona.

Margaret Olley admired his work's "concept, use of paint and great presence" and the artist's colour sense.

UQ Art Museum director, Nick Mitzevich said: "It's called Self Portrait Dead but it's more so the artist probably asleep, from potentially having had a few too many drinks."

Mr Mitzevich encouraged members of the public to visit the exhibition, which complements the University's existing self-portrait collection, the only one of its kind in the country.

"Self-portraits are compelling, not simply because of the insight they give us into how artists see themselves, but also because of what they say about the world they live in – incorporating all of the contemporary debates about representation and identity," he said.

Generously supported by the Margaret Hannah Olley Foundation, the UQ National Artists' Self-Portrait Prize will be held every second year, with all works entered to be available for acquisition by the University.

The National Artists' Self-Portrait Prize 2007 appears at the UQ Art Museum, University Drive, St Lucia until February 10, 2008. Admission is free.

Media: Nick Mitzevich (07 3365 3046, n.mitzevich@uq.edu.au), or Jan King (0413 601 248) or Cameron Pegg (07 3365 2049, c.pegg@uq.edu.au) at UQ Communications.

High-resolution images of the winning artist and work, along with other entries can be downloaded here