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Sharp focus on the blur of war

By Alex Rea 11 November 2018 0
Kate Steven's in her Braidwood Studio. Photo Alex Rea

Kate Stevens in her Braidwood Studio. Photo: Alex Rea.

Braidwood Painter Kate Stevens had won the inaugural $50,000 Evelyn Chapman Art Award. The Braidwood resident’s work was painted from drone footage over Gaza.

The Evelyn Chapman Art Award is presented to an Australian painter, male or female under 45. The Award is given to support a young Australian painter by furthering their art education both in knowledge and artistic practice internationally or in Australia. The award provides a $50,000 scholarship to ‘engender the encouragement, development and rewarding of artistic skill, through furthering the training and knowledge and skills of Australian painters.’

Perpetual, as Trustee, and the S.H. Ervin Gallery announced artist Kate Stevens as the winner one hundred and thirty years after Evelyn Chapman’s birth.

Winning work by Kate Steven’s, Gaza, 2016, oil on canvas, 112 x 122cm.
Image: Supplied.

Stevens’ winning work Gaza forms part of an ongoing series exploring how we process images of war from the domesticity of the home which the artist looks to develop using the scholarship.

Stevens says, “I felt inspired to enter this prize upon seeing the beautiful black and white photograph of Evelyn Chapman sitting at her easel painting the ruins of the Western Front – a pioneer for women interested in the subject of war, not afforded the opportunity we have today to combine painting and motherhood.”

Alongside these artworks inspired by Youtube and Instagram, Stevens continues to paint watercolours of the landscape around Braidwood. These quite minimal and bucolic works are a far cry from the annihilation shown in her war paintings. The artist sees this, however, as the point. From such peaceful, safe landscapes, we can still be confronted by media images of war, so they do coexist.

Scenes from an afternoon #10, 2018, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 50cm.

East Aleppo 219, 2018, oil on canvas, 100 x 125cm.

“I am interested in how we process images of war from the domesticity of home, and through the immediacy and relentlessness of online platforms. Over the past 18 months, I’ve been painting images of the ruins of Aleppo taken from drone footage on Youtube, and a series of explosions in Gaza painted from news photos on my mobile phone.”

The series Drones Over Aleppo is currently being exhibited at Canberra Contemporary Art Space. In the accompanying catalogue essay David Broker, director of CCAS, wrote: “What Stevens is presenting is not new, however, her work is a chilling reminder that the annihilation of previous conflicts is scarcely a thing of the past.” He concludes: “As we the audience are confronted with a highly accomplished poetry of destruction we can but ask what has been achieved, and for whom…and retreat to consider both the power and powerlessness.”

Stevens says she will build upon this series of work with research at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

“In particular I hope to use the publicly available resources at the AWM to gain a better understanding of Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and other recent experiences of Australians at war. In addition, I want to learn more about the rich history of war artists through the Australian War Memorial’s collection, including Arthur Streeton’s sketchbooks and his watercolours of ruins.”

“By immersing myself in learning about the Australian experience of war today, and the works of Australian war artists, I hope to bring a deeper understanding and contemporary relevance to a new series of paintings on the subject,” says Stevens.

Kate Stevens in the studio in Braidwood. Photo: Alex Rea.

Stevens was selected from a finalist group of seven artists, who each submitted three oil paintings and proposal, judged by a panel consisting of artists Ann Cape, Yvonne Langshaw, and artist and Head of Royal Art Society of NSW Art School Greg Hansell. The other finalists were: Fabrizio Biviano (VIC), Bridget Dolan (NSW), Frances Feasy (NSW), Amanda Marburg (VIC), Lilli Stromland (NSW), Liz Stute (VIC).

“It is a great privilege to receive this award and I look forward to using this opportunity to immerse myself in learning about Australia and war today, and the works of Australian war artists, so that I can bring a deeper understanding to a new series of paintings on the subject.”

Kate Stevens is a graduate of the Canberra School of Art ANU, and a winner of the Portia Geach Memorial Painting Prize, 2011, and was the recipient of a Veolia Creative Arts Scholarship in 2017.

The winning work will be on exhibit at the S.H Ervin Gallery, Sydney until Sunday 2 December.

Her exhibition Drones over Aleppo is on show at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman House, Canberra, until 17 November.

Steven’s work will also be on show in a group exhibition at The Left Hand, Braidwood, from 3 November. The show is open during three weekends from 3 November, 10 -5 at Lascelles Street Braidwood.

Stevens is represented by Nancy Sever Gallery.

Australian artist Evelyn Chapman sits with her easel in the ruins of Villers-Brettoneaux, France. Picture: Courtesy of S.H. Ervin Gallery.

About Evelyn Chapman

Evelyn Chapman (1888–1961) was an Australian painter and the first female artist to depict the devastated battlefields, churches and towns of the western front after the First World War. A respected artist, Chapman exhibited at the Salon in France but was forced to retire as a painter following her marriage; however, she continued to espouse art education and practice. Evelyn Chapman’s archive including artworks, photographs and correspondence between her and her daughter is held at the Art Gallery of NSW National Art Archive.

The Evelyn Chapman Trust, established by the bequest Pamela Thalben-Ball, Chapman’s artist daughter, will award a scholarship of $50,000 to support a young Australian painter by furthering their art education both in knowledge and artistic practice. The artist receiving the award will use the scholarship overseas or in Australia, at a recognised and well-established art school or work at an organisation on a program or project that enhances the artist’s artistic skills.


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