Artist’s 100 images win UQ’s $50,000 National Self-Portrait Prize

Victorian artist Fiona McMonagle has been awarded one of Australia’s most prestigious art prizes, The University of Queensland’s National Self-Portrait Prize 2015.

The award was judged by QAGOMA Curatorial Manager of Australian Art Jason Smith.

UQ Faculty of Arts
An image from One Hundred Days at 7pm 2015 by McMonagle (Image via UQ)

The winner was announced at the opening of the National Self-Portrait Prize exhibition at the UQ Art Museum on Nov. 13.

Fiona McMonagle’s winning artwork, One hundred days at 7pm 2015, is a single-channel, 16-second video animation of 100 self-portraits. The artist painted a single portrait at 7 p.m. every day over 100 days.

“To me, ‘becoming’ is the process of change and moving forward, and I wanted to translate these ideas into an artwork that had a fluidity about it,” she said.

“As a medium, watercolour lends itself very nicely to the moving image, but the challenge was to keep my self-portraits as consistent as possible by using a restricted palette and a restricted number of brushes.

“I also didn’t allow myself to view the previous portrait when making the next.

“The process itself turned out to be an intrinsic part of the work. The ritual of painting one’s self-portrait at the same time every day was an exercise in self-discipline and a test of my painting skills.”

Mr Smith said self-portraits did not allow an artist to divorce themselves from their subject, and it had been a poignant and challenging process to judge artworks with such captivating qualities and personal backstories.

“Judging art prizes is never easy, but I kept coming back to Fiona McMonagle’s work, not only because it addressed the theme of ‘becoming’ in many ways, but it also did so in a way that drew me to her process of constant looking and observation.

“I think perhaps this distinguishes one self-portrait over another,” he said.

“Fiona is well known for her lyrical watercolours, so it was also intriguing to see how she has pushed her practice into the realm of animated film. It was a remarkable transformation that resulted in a poetic, mesmerising and wonderfully alternative view of the artist.

“For me, transformative artworks always are more than the sum of their parts.

“It sustains the viewer until the end and, for some indefinable reason, keeps driving you back to it. Fiona’s work achieves this and she has produced a quiet but complex, poetic picture of herself.”

UQ Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said 30 artists at the forefront of Australian visual arts practice were invited to vie for the acquisitive prize, responding to the theme of ‘becoming’.

“It is wonderful to see these diverse and innovative responses to the theme by some of Australia’s most senior artists and many exciting newcomers,” Dr Gray said.

“The self-portrait is an important focus area for both collection development and exhibitions at UQ Art Museum through our National Collection of Self-Portraits, and Fiona McMonagle’s work makes an important addition to the UQ Art Collection.”

The $50,000 invitation-only acquisitive prize is a biennial event, curated this year by National Portrait Gallery former Deputy Director Mr Michael Desmond.

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