11/11/2019 - 15:25

Novice Nunan wins Lester Prize

11/11/2019 - 15:25

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Liam Nunan had never entered an art competition before winning the The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019 for a painting of his friend Jonny Hawkins on Friday night.

Liam Nunan says he wanted to paint Jonny Hawkins because he is someone he greatly admires. Photo: Johannes Reinhart

Liam Nunan had never entered an art competition before winning the The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019 for a painting of his friend Jonny Hawkins on Friday night.

The award, previously called The Black Swan Prize for Portraiture but renamed earlier this year to honour the financial support and leadership of lifetime patron Richard (Dick) Lester and his company Lester Group, is one of the richest prizes for portaiture in the country. 

Primarily an actor, Mr Nunan began experimenting with life drawing and started painting only a year ago between theatre roles.

“It’s great when you can get it [acting work]; it’s a lot of fun but there is a lot of time in between jobs and it can leave you creatively unfulfilled,” Mr Nunan told Business News.

“So that’s when I started to take up life drawing and then moved into painting.

“It has allowed me to scratch my creative itch and create things on my own terms, rather than waiting for work.

“I get the same kind of rush from a painting as I do from acting.”

Mr Nunan won the $50,000 prize for a portrait of Mr Hawkins, an actor, writer and one half of DJ duo The Dollar Bin Darlings, who perform at festivals around the country in drag.

“I wanted to paint him because he is someone that I greatly admire and someone who has a real zest for life and lives with reckless abandon,” Mr Nunan said.

“He’s got these qualities that I really wish that I had.

“He’s the type of person that, if he has money in the can, he just goes, ‘I’m going to go to Morocco for a week’.

“I had ideas of creating a larger-than-life, flamboyant colourful piece, but when we sat down and started it sort of turned into a moment of reflection and I went with that.”

Despite Mr Hawkins’ demeanour, Mr Nunan said people would be surprised about his background.

“He’s just so open and lives so loud and proud but he actually comes from a very conservative religious background and was even an ordained pastor before he came out.

“I wanted to create something that created a moment of reconciling and a moment of reflection about where he has come from and where he is moving to.”

The Lester Prize judge Ted Snell said although Mr Nunan was new to painting, he was attuned to the humanity of his subject, which made him a worthy winner. 

“Jonny’s introspective, downcast gaze, the somber palette the brooding expressions are tantalising lures that draw us closer to this man,” Professor Snell said.

“We want to know more about his relationship with Liam and how this document of their friendship materialised. 

“The artist’s statement is another intriguing hook. How do we reconcile this ‘moment of reflective contemplation’ with Jonny’s infectious grin and love of disco?”

In an interesting twist, a portrait of Mr Nunan features in the exhibition after his friend from acting school Antoinette Barbouttis painted him and was also announced as a finalist.

Western Australian local Jeff Bryant and Tasmanian Nicole O’Loughlin were highly commended for their self-portraits.

The Lester Prize's Mr Lester said he was looking forward to seeing the 13-year-old prize continue to grow.

“We’ve got three prizes and we’d like to have four or five prizes and we are constantly thinking about that,” Mr Lester told Business News.

“We would also like to travel the exhibition to regional WA so we can give the regional communities an opportunity to appreciate first quality portraiture.”

The work of the 40 finalists can be viewed at the Art Gallery of WA from November 9 to December 9.

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