The Sir John Sulman Prize 2021

Each year when the Archibald Prize and the Wynne Prize are being awarded at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney there is another prize also being announced - the Sir John Sulman Prize which is one of Australia's longest-running art prizes, having been established in 1936.

The Sir John Sulman Prize is awarded ... for the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project ... The media may be acrylic, oil, watercolour or mixed media...

A genre painting is normally a composition representing some aspect or aspects of everyday life, and may feature figurative, still-life, interior or figure-in-landscape themes. A subject painting, in contrast to a genre painting, is idealised or dramatised. Typically, a subject painting takes its theme from history, poetry, mythology or religion. In both cases, however, the style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract. A mural is a picture that is affixed directly to a wall or ceiling, as part of an architectural and/or decorative scheme. 1

This year the Sulman Prize was won by Georgia Spain for Getting down or falling up, an acrylic on canvas work 180.6 x 187.5 cm.

Getting down or falling up by Georgie Spain (2)

In Getting down or falling up, anonymous figures become entangled within the canvas, evoking a sense of movement and tension between the bodies. This work explores the idea of physical tension and connection captured in moments of conflict or pleasure. Limbs reach, push, pull and flail to reflect the feeling of getting up and falling down, over and over again.

In my paintings, I explore the complexities of human behaviour, using narrative and storytelling to examine the cultural, political and personal. I’m interested in the emotional and performative exchanges between people in social and psychological spaces. I often investigate bodies in groupings, touching on an instinctive engagement between people in crisis or communion.

Georgia Spain, 2021 2

One of the finalist also caught my eye. First because the colours reminded me a little of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and ironically the crowd composition is a little like some of Bruegel's paintings. But the crowd below is sheltering from a firestorm which erupted at Bateman's Bay on the south coast of New South Wales on 30 Dec 2019 just before another threat erupted around the world.

On the beach (Malua Bay, NYE 2019) Oil on linen, 150.5.x 260 cm by Jude Rae (2)

Early in 2020, photographer Alex Coppel posted an extraordinary image on Instagram of New Year’s Eve fires at Malua Bay, on the south coast of NSW. When I contacted him to ask if I might attempt a painting based on it, he very generously agreed. The title of the painting refers to the 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, which is set in Melbourne following a nuclear war. While nuclear conflict is still a threat, the world now faces the reality of global warming. COVID-19 bears down on us, but we must not forget the fires and other ecological crises that threaten Australia with the onset of climate change.2

Jude Rae, 2021

You can view all the other finalists in the Sulman Prize 2021 by clicking here.

Tomorrow we are going to look at an artist who won The Sulman Prize twice - in 1988 and then again the following year in 1989, and he also won the Mosman Art Prize in 1992.