National Self-Portrait Prize

Achieving quality through quantity, congratulations to Fiona McMonagle whose portrait 'One hundred days at 7pm' was awarded $50,000 for winning the National Self-Portrait Prize at the University of Queensland Art Museum. 

Revealing the multiple faces of McMonagle – 100 in total to be specific – the winning artwork blurs the material with the immaterial, compiled of watercolour self-portraits in a 16 second digital animation.

A transformative work, McMonagle stated, “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.”

“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.”

The award was judged by QAGOMA’s Curatorial Manager of Australian Art Jason Smith, who commented,“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.

“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.”

Calling for artists to turn the paintbrush on themselves, the annual National Self-Portrait Prize showcases the (sometimes enigmatic) artist and their practice. A telling portrait of the people behind the canvas, this invitation only prize always delivers on a diverse celebration of leading Australian artists.

This year the theme for the show is ‘Becoming’, curated by Michael Desmond. Expanding upon the self-reflexive nature of the portrait, Desmond stated,”Looking at a face that you have seen since infancy, through puberty, through trials and tribulations, celebration and serenity, you know yourself best. That awareness of change, of evolution and decline, of recording more than the instant is the challenge of the self portrait…The idea of ‘becoming’ is an invitation for the artist to convey, and the viewer to read, complexity into what might be just a face. There are any number of answers to perplex and delight the viewer.”

In response to the theme for the prize this year, McMonagle’s practice embodied the notion of ‘becoming’. For One hundred days at 7pm she painted a single portrait at 7pm every day over 100 days, stating “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.”

Examining the self in the “now”, each portrait is a telling snapshot of Australian contemporary art and its instigators.

Broad in its diversity of mediums and artists, this year’s show includes moments of  “becoming” from finalists Khadim Ali • Jacqueline Bradley • Jon Cattapan • Bindi Cole • Michael Cook • Janet Dawson • eX de Medici • Julia deVille • Emily Hunt • Fiona Foley • Julie Gough • Guan Wei • Marie Hagerty • Nicholas Harding • Anna Hoyle • Lindy Lee • James Lieutenant • Hilarie Mais • Fiona McMonagle • Dan Moynihan • John Nixon • Patricia Piccinini • Andrew Sayers • Tanya Schultz • Pamela See • Tyza Stewart • Christian Thompson • Kensuke Todo • Philip Wolfhagen • Judith Wright.

The result? An intriguing snapshot of Australian artists today, make sure you head along and see the result of this en masse self-reflection.

National Self-Portrait Prize

University of Queensland Art Museum, QLD
14 November 2015 – 13 March 2016

Courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum, QLD

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