Doug Moran prize 2022: Graeme Drendel wins $150,000 for portrait of fellow finalist who painted him | Art and design

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Doug Moran prize 2022: Graeme Drendel wins $150,000 for portrait of fellow finalist who painted him | Art and design

Graeme Drendel won Australia’s richest portrait prize for his painting of one of his fellow finalists, artist Lewis Miller, who himself was nominated for a portrait he painted of Drendel.

Drendel, a Victorian artist known for his figurative work, was announced as the winner of the $150,000 Doug Moran national portrait prize at a ceremony in Sydney on Wednesday. Drendel and Miller, who are close friends, were both present for the announcement.

“We have known each other for a long time,” Drendel said after the announcement. “We have never painted each other before. Lewis is a very frequent portrait painter, and he has done many self-portraits so that people know his face.

Graeme Drendel’s winning portrait of Lewis Miller. Photo: Provided by Doug Moran National Portrait Prize

“I suggested to him that I would do his portrait and he said, ‘Well, I’ll do one of you.’ I had three sessions with him – I usually get a portrait done in a couple of hours, but for some reason Lewis was more difficult. But it was very nice – lots of gossip, good music and a glass of beer.

“I expected his painting of mine to win, it’s a ripper. This is a beautiful tough painting. That’s why I feel so grateful that I won.”

Prize judge and art historian Gerard Vaughan called it “an intriguing coincidence” that Miller’s “excellent” portrait was also a finalist, but said Drendel’s painting “stood out right from the start of the judging process, within ‘ a very strong field”.

“Drendel’s painting technique is superb, skilful and subtle with flawless lighting and tonality…this is a quietly powerful depiction of a familiar face, a character study that is both reflective and demands attention by virtue of its emotional power and believability,” he added.

Drendel’s painting of Miller is only 30 cm long. Vaughan said that while some viewers might find his small size “surprising”, it was a strength.

“One characteristic of contemporary portraits is large size, presenting images of faces that are abundant, ranging from large to gigantic. In this case the reverse applies… a smaller scale can provide opportunities for the artist to present a clearer sense of reality, intimacy and authenticity, a picture that is also portable and can be easily moved around,” he said.

Lewis Miller's portrait of Graeme Drendel.
Lewis Miller’s portrait of Graeme Drendel. Photo: Provided by Doug Moran National Portrait Prize

Drendel calls his win “an incredible surprise – I’ve never won a prize before, and to win with a small painting is a big shock.”

“I hardly thought about the monetary aspect of it,” he said. “It will come. Really, it’s the recognition, after all these years of work, it’s worth so much more.”

Drendel has twice previously been nominated for the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, in 2021 and 2017. He has exhibited since 1990 and his work appears in many collections across the country, including the National Gallery of Australia.

Vaughan’s fellow judges were artist Lucy Culliton, and Peter Moran, whose parents Doug and Greta Moran founded the Moran Arts Foundation in 1988.

Culliton said Drendel’s win was a unanimous decision. “Interestingly, when we viewed the paintings in real life, although I knew the painting was small, I was surprised at how small the portrait was. I am very happy with our winner. A beautifully painted painting,” she said.

The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize invites original works from Australian artists that capture Australians from all walks of life, whether a public figure or someone from the artist’s circle of experience. All entries must be at least partially painted from life and the sitter must be known to the artist.

Last year, the prize money was doubled so three artists could win $100,000 each because the judges couldn’t agree on just one – a first for the prize.

There will be no physical exhibition for the Doug Moran finalists this year, due to building works at Juniper Hall, the heritage-listed building in Paddington, Sydney, where the works are usually displayed. All the finalists can be viewed online.

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