The contemporary still life award that’s resonating with Australian artists

Still: National Still Life Award, presented by Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, has garnered attention from Australia's most prominent artists and is ensuring this contemporary practice thrives.
The contemporary still life award that’s resonating with Australian artists

Sydney-based artist Sarah Goffman’s Asian Table was the winner of Still: National Still Life Award 2017.

A reflection of the objects around us, a still life can also be a reminder of the transient nature of life.

The themes that underpin still life can be interpreted in really interesting ways because there is an underlying theme of momento mori,’ said Cath Fogarty, Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery Coordinator.

‘Still life provides that grim reminder of the passage of time, and that everything is ephemeral.’

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A biennial, acquisitive award for artworks in the genre of still life, Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery’s Still: National Still Life Award celebrates all forms of interpretation of the genre.

‘The award also celebrates the objects that we surround ourselves with and the spaces that we create; the objects that hold meaning for us, and the symbolism that they carry. Artists can take that in many directions,’ Fogarty told ArtsHub.

Still: National Still Life Award was first presented in 2017, with the gallery deciding to breathe new life into the genre by opening up the award to all mediums.

‘It was about making it accessible to all artists,’ Fogarty said.

With such contemporary notions the Award attracted many of Australia’s exciting and prominent artists.

‘Tony Albert entered in 2017 with a photographic work Mid Century Modern – Snake, Fish, Shield. And Canberra-based glass artist Annette Blair entered the award with A Place for Everything – a tool shed still life made of black glass. That work was stunning not only in its beauty and fragility but also in the way it depicted everyday objects such as a hammer and nails,' she said.

‘There were also sculptural works, tapestry works, and ceramic work, including work by Prue Venables Esme's Dressing Table that received a Judge’s Commendation. We also had video works submitted including one by Elvis Richardson – Settlement 2016.

‘Of course the work by Sarah Goffman, the 2017 winner, was a great choice.’

A reinterpretation of a Chinese porcelain ceramic collection made from recycled PET plastic food containers, Goffman’s Asian Table ‘really captured the spirit of the award,’ Fogarty said.

Among the prominent themes appearing in entrants’ work in the first iteration were an emphasis on sustainability and reflections on our sociological impact on the environment.

‘There was a really strong environmental interest. There was a lot of work that was referencing discarded objects and refuse in the environment.’

The number of entrants in 2017 showed that the award struck a chord with many contemporary artists, Fogarty said, adding: ‘But what also was really nice about the exhibition was that more than half the artists made the trip to Coffs Harbour for the opening. We had people travelling from Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and everywhere in between.’

With entries open until 10 June, Fogarty is excited to see how Australia’s artists will respond to the contemporary still life award this year.

‘It’s a real opportunity for artists to delve into that rich treasure trove of themes and ideas that still life presents. We are excited to see those interesting approaches,’ Fogarty concluded.

Still: National Still Life Award – Key Dates

Still: National Still Life Award, worth $30,000, invites artists across Australia to enter.

Entries open Monday 11 February and close on Monday 10 June. The winner will be announced at the exhibition opening on Saturday 21 September with the People’s Choice Award winner announced on 7 November. Rebecca Coates, Director of the Shepparton Art Museum, will judge this year’s Award.

Visit www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au/still for entry conditions and details.

About the author

Andrea Simpson is ArtsHub's Feature Writer and Reviews Editor. Andrea is a Filipino-Australian writer with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in the publishing sector.

Andrea has had short stories published in various anthologies, and is currently working on her first novel.  

You can follow Andrea on Instagram @andi_jayyy