From Sharne Wolff…
Commenting after winning the 50th annual Portia Geach Memorial Award, artist Natasha Bieniek noted that the Award’s importance lay in its aim to “promote and encourage the work of female artists to facilitate greater equality”. Established in memory of Sydney artist Portia Geach by her sister Florence, the Award was intended to deliberately rival the male dominated Archibald Prize by virtue of its new focus on portraits by contemporary women artists. Fifty years later, one would hope things might have changed, but numbers collected by CoUNTess (the blog that gathers data on gender representation in the Australian art-world) show that this Award not only retains its relevance, but is probably as important as ever.
Bieniek’s Sahara is a tiny self-portrait. Depicting the artist’s body intermingled with exotic fabric props Bieniek hides her face from view. By reason of its very small scale, the picture draws the viewer in close – not unlike using a smartphone to view photos of friends or selfies. Like Gerhard Richter’s enigmatic Betty 1988, the painting retains its mystery with the subject’s refusal to meet the viewer’s gaze. The cryptic feel is more pronounced when it seems the artist is avoiding self-scrutiny without explaining why. Selected from around 300 entries the exhibition features the work of more than 40 leading painters.
Until October 25
SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney
Pic: Natasha Bieniek Sahara 2014, oil on wood, 13.5 x 18.5 cm. Courtesy the artist.