Media, entertainment & the arts

A Tibetan mountain landscape is the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize winner

One of the arts community’s most highly regarded and keenly contested competitions is right here in Gippsland, and it bears the name of one of the region’s most passionate promoters of the arts.

The winner of the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize has been announced, putting this particular landscape artist in the company of an elite group of past winners.

Melbourne-based artist Sarah Tomasetti was announced the winner last night, at the Gippsland Art Gallery’s first ever virtual opening.

Sarah’s enigmatic painting Kailash from the Air depicts the sacred Tibetan mountain Kailash from a high perspective, painted using the Renaissance method of oil and incision on fresco plaster. The work explores the artist’s concern for the Earth’s changing natural environment.

See a larger view of ‘Kailash from the Air’ by Sarah Tomasetti below

Here’s how Sarah described her work:

“The Tibetan plateau is melting, in some places up to ten times faster than the poles. All the river systems of South Asia originate here, pouring over the edge of the roof of the world and sustaining one third of the worlds’ population. And so research into the climate dynamics of region increasingly aligns with the centuries old belief amongst Buddhists and Hindus that Mt Kailash is the navel of the world and the source of all life.

“Mt Kailash has never been climbed but from a drone or a plane we can see this sacred peak from above, and so this work hovers at the dawn of the Anthropocene, an age in which a human gaze can penetrate all corners of the globe, a colonising force without compare.”

A large painting at 240 x 150cm, the work is highly meticulous and atmospheric, and uses a limited colour palette.

Tomasetti’s winning painting was selected by judges Simon Gregg (Gallery Director) and Erin Mathews (Gallery Curator) from a field of fifty finalists chosen by guest judge Robert Nelson (Art Critic, The Age) and senior Gallery staff. In all, 409 entries were submitted for the 2020 John Leslie Art Prize, from a total of 334 artists.

Gallery Director Simon Gregg described Tomasetti’s winning work as “magical”.

“The painting is a dazzling tour-de-force that draws you in,” said Simon.

“The handling and application of the oil paint into wet fresco is exemplary and the subject is a timely one with the changing climate and the need for increasing respect of our planet’s finite resources.

“The more one looks at the painting the more we find within it, and it continues to unfold before our eyes,” said the Gallery Director.

Tomasetti has held countless solo and group exhibitions since her first exhibition in 1988. In 1999 Tomasetti completed a Master of Arts in Fine Art at RMIT University, and is currently a PhD researcher and Fine Art lecturer there. She has been a past finalist in fourteen prizes (including the John Leslie Art Prize on two separate occasions), however this is her first win. Tomasetti takes home the $20,000 first prize and her painting will be automatically acquired for the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Fish Creek-based artist Linda Gibbs was awarded Best Gippsland Work, for her Untitled painting. The large oil on linen work impressed the judges, who praised the work for its gentle luminosity, sparse but expert handling of paint, and the strangely inviting subject. Gibbs was awarded $1,000 in her category. Both winning artists said they were “thrilled” to be selected from a very strong field of finalists this year.

The John Leslie Art Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious prizes for landscape painting. The Prize is named after the late John Leslie OBE (1919-2016), former Patron of the Gippsland Art Gallery. The continuation of the Prize is due to the generosity of the John Leslie Foundation.

The Prize is staged every second year, and previous winners include David Keeling (2000), Vera Möller (2002), Mark McCarthy (2004), Brigid Cole-Adams (2006), Andrew Mezei (2008), Jason Cordero (2010), Tony Lloyd (2012), Shannon Smiley (2014), Amelda Read-Forsythe (2016), and Vanessa Kelly (2018).

The exhibition of fifty finalists is currently on display at the Gippsland Art Gallery until 25 October. Visitors are invited to submit their favourite to the People’s Choice Award online on the Gallery’s website


Kailash From The Air by Sarah Tomasetti
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