A powerful rendering of Canberra’s Black Summer bushfires has been awarded the Canberra Critics Circle major award for artist Dianne Fogwell.
The 2021 Canberra Artist of the Year award recognises Ms Fogwell’s ‘Transient’ exhibition at Beaver Galleries in November 2021 that captured the choking pall of smoke that enveloped the city at the height of the bushfire crisis in 2019-2020. She described the exhibition at the time as “a meditation on damage and loss, with hope for regeneration of both place and spirit”.
“The haze and unburnt particles that laid a blanket of smoke over Canberra were the ghostly indicators of the immense devastation and turmoil,” she said. “These elements made me contemplate the strength and fragility of the materials I use, and acknowledge the irony of making an image about the natural enemy of works on paper.”
Ms Fogwell, who is a nationally respected printmaker, book artist and long-term lecturer at the ANU’s School of Art, said she is honoured by the award and to be part of Canberra’s creative community.
“Being an artist in Canberra has been a real privilege,” she said at the awards night, held at Canberra Museum and Gallery.
“We never make the national news unless our air quality is the worst in the world, but we’ve always been a hidden gem. We’ve always had an enormous amount of support resources and an ease of living to be able to make art.”
Ms Fogwell also paid tribute to “great galleries and good representation”, to local critics and to the ANU School of Art which she said has been a rich and fruitful environment for her and for her family for more than 27 years.
“It means a lot to me to be part of this community,” said Ms Fogwell. “It means a lot to know I’ve contributed something that’s appreciated, and it means a lot to be able to work in my studio undistributed no matter what’s happening in the world, but being able to comment on the world we live in.”
Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Artbank, the Australian War Memorial, The Art Institute of Chicago, The National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington DC, and the China Printmaking Museum in Shenzhen.
The Helen Tsongas Award for Excellence in Acting went to Dylan Van Den Berg, who conceived, wrote and performed in Milk at the Street Theatre, for which he also won the $30,000 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
A light-skinned Palawa man from Tasmania, Mr Van Den Berg grew up with stories of his family’s eviction across Bass Strait, and their struggles and choices around whether to conceal their heritage.
He came to Canberra for university and stayed, beginning to write when he was unable to find roles that described how it felt to sit uneasily between worlds.
Milk is a multigenerational work centred around three characters whose stories are woven together across time, and was performed at the Street Theatre during National Reconciliation Week from late May until early June 2021.
The Canberra Critics Circle also awards certificates of recognition for noteworthy work across the fields of theatre, visual arts, music, musical theatre, photography, dance, film and writing. These are listed on the Canberra Critics Circle website.
The Canberra Critics Circle was convened 30 years ago by Helen Musa and encompasses all major artforms and provides a focal point for Canberra reviewers in print and electronic media through discussions and forums.
Awards are made to artists within a 100km radius of Canberra, singling out works with exceptional impact, originality, creativity, craftsmanship and excellence.