Northern Rivers Portrait Prize winner Cassandra Rijs with her boyfriend Dean Greguric, the subject of her winning portrait You Look So Beautiful When You’re Sleeping.
Northern Rivers Portrait Prize winner Cassandra Rijs with her boyfriend Dean Greguric, the subject of her winning portrait You Look So Beautiful When You’re Sleeping.

Hundreds queue to see sleeping beauty

Cassandra Rijs should be doubly proud. Not only did she win the inaugural Northern Rivers Portrait Prize but she also managed to wade through a heaving crowd of hundreds to take the podium and claim her $7,500 prize.

The Lismore Regional Gallery was overflowing with people for the opening, with hundreds lined up down Molesworth Street, nightclub-style, hoping to get a glimpse of the portraits.

“We had expected a large crowd at the opening, but we were totally amazed by the magnitude of people,” Lismore Regional Gallery director Brett Adlington said. “It was overwhelming and gratifying at the same time.

“Indeed the constant comment of the night, and one I’ve been hearing all week, is that the opening really confirmed the need for a new gallery. It made me realise the severe limitations the current gallery poses, and how we actually have to be mindful of scaling back how well we can do things because of this.”

Judge Michael Zavros, a four-time Archibald finalist, named Cassandra Rijs’s painting of her partner Dean Greguric, You Look So Beautiful When You’re Sleeping, as the winner.

“I automatically just loved the work when I saw it,” Michael said. “It’s beautiful to look at and it’s quite epic in its proportions. It’s technically very beautifully handled but what I really loved about it and what’s enduring is that it puts you, as the viewer, in a privileged position where you can see the deep relationship between the artist and the subject. It’s lovingly rendered and it’s a very personal space that she has allowed us into.”

Many locals would know the subject Dean from his ‘colour’ parties which have been very popular in the underground scene. The couple now lives in East Gippsland but Cassandra, 27, studied art at Southern Cross University and lived in Lismore for five years.

Her artist statement begins with this simple ode to Dean: “When I wake with you next to me all the scenery in the world could not inspire me more.”

“My art is very intimate to me so the way I chose to capture Dean was in a way that’s very personal,” Cassandra said. “I have a large collection of photographs of Dean during various moments but him sleeping has really interested me – I was drawn to the sense of peacefulness and vulnerability. The image that I chose stood out because it was reminiscent of a photograph I took of my son while he was sleeping when he was just a week old. So there was a strong connection there for me. My art is about giving people a glimpse into my world on an intimate level, and in doing this portrait of Dean I’ve also given people a very intimate perspective of the man I love.”

Cassandra lived in London for a year where she rented a studio space and said being surrounded by other professional artists in a creative environment was very inspiring. Cassandra said winning the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize was her career highlight so far.

“I was overwhelmed to receive such a prestigious award,” she said. “It took me a few days to really take it in. Now I am excited and eager to start purchasing art supplies and organising exhibitions so that I can keep my creative flow going. I am also planning a trip to Europe so that I can get some connections in the art scenes in Berlin and Paris, and to reconnect with my fellow artists from the Wimbledon Art Studios. Winning the prize has given me confidence that I can take my art to a higher level. The Archibald is next on my list!”

Young artist Rosie Gordon won the $1000 Andrew and Jeni Binns Emerging Artist Award for her portrait of Winston McCall and people have until the end of next month to vote for the $500 Lismore Regional Gallery People’s Choice Award.

The Northern Rivers Portrait Prize is on show until May 29.


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