Melbourne-based figurative artist Claire Bridge has taken out the $3000 Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award People's Choice prize, for her portrait of her friend, actor Medina Sumovic.
The announcement marks the end of the biennial exhibition, with the $50,000 first prize won this year by leading contemporary Australian artist, Shaun Gladwell.
Bega Valley Regional Gallery curator, Iain Dawson, said the People's Choice winning portrait, titled Sanctuary, was a clear favourite with visitors to the gallery.
“I’m not at all surprised by the results of the People’s Choice award – our visitors overwhelmingly loved Claire’s sensitive and exquisitely realised portrait of her friend, the actor Medina Sumovic,” he said.
“Claire is an amazingly talented artist, who will be presenting new works at the prestigious, Melbourne Art Fair this coming August.
"She has studied in New York, San Francisco and extensively throughout Europe, yet her style and sensibility remains uniquely Australian.
"I have no doubt we will see Claire’s work again in the Shirley Hannan Portrait Award."
Claire Bridge is a figurative realist artist specialising in paintings that invite deeper contemplation beyond the painted surface and first reading of the work.
Her art explores our connectedness, the invisible and visible entanglements between each other, and between humanity and the natural world.
Talking about her winning portrait, Bridge says that Sanctuary tells of a cherished place, a space of internal reflection and also, with the symbolism of the floral chemise, speaks of our connection and reverence for the sanctuary to be found in the natural world.
“A sanctuary is a place that is both a refuge and a place that is cherished, of quiet and intimate connection,” she said.
“I have painted my good friend, Medina Sumovic, actor, dramaturg and artistic director of the Australian Theatre of the Deaf.
"Medina is profoundly deaf, is a survivor of cysytic fibrosis and a double lung transplant which gave her what she calls a 'second chance at life'.
"Her inner sanctuary becomes a place of quiet and sustaining power.
“Sanctuary talks about a kind of introspective listening that is both curious and full of intent.
"It is also about a state of being; sensuously present to the external world and simultaneously present to the inner world with complete attention.
“I’m fascinated with capturing these moments of threshold experience.
"The act of painting itself has this quality for me, a surrendering to the task while at the same time engaging a quality of observation that is best described as deep listening with the eye and the heart in the sanctuary of my creative space.”
Mr Dawson said the closing of the 2014 Shirley Hannan marked the beginning of the Hannan Gifted exhibition, and the continued growth of national award that is gaining in popularity both here and overseas.
“I’m thrilled by the support and close relationship the Hannan family is maintaining with the local community and our regional gallery," he said.
“Thanks to the Hannan family we now have the third richest portraiture prize in Australia, a new and wonderful award named Shirl that’s aimed at showcasing young Australian portraiture across many mediums, and the exquisite Gifted exhibition that will delight visitors to the gallery with selected and unseen works from the Shirley Hannan collection."