Northern Rivers Portrait Prize subject Digby Moran is critiqued by David Wolff from Walters Solicitors, who are major sponsors, Lismore Regional Gallery curator Kezia Geddes and artist Jimmy Willing.
Northern Rivers Portrait Prize subject Digby Moran is critiqued by David Wolff from Walters Solicitors, who are major sponsors, Lismore Regional Gallery curator Kezia Geddes and artist Jimmy Willing.

Putting our finest in the frame

International renowned local painter Albert ‘Digby’ Moran will feature in the inaugural Northern Rivers Portrait Prize – but not as an artist.

Digby was asked by local painter Jimmy Willing if he could paint him for the competition and this week when the finalists were announced, Jimmy and Digby were both thrilled to find Jimmy’s painting A Saltwater Cowboy had made the final cut.

“I wanted a cowboy with a story to tell and Digby had that – when a lady left him he went off to go bull riding. His story is really colourful,” Jimmy said. “He also has these idyllic stories of his childhood on Cabbage Tree Island that are very Huckleberry Finn. He contributes to our region artistically through his paintings and storytelling. I knew my subject had to engage me and I found Digby’s stories really interesting.”

Jimmy is one of the fortunate ones, with the three judges having to cull the enormous field of over 130 entries down to 53 finalists. The overall judge, painter Michael Zavros, now has the unenviable task of picking who will take home the wining prize of $7,500 and the $1000 Andrew and Jeni Binns Emerging Artist Award.

“I was really happy to be chosen – I love that this exhibition celebrates our region and our artists and it’s not about people in London or New York,” Jimmy said. “It’s an incredible vehicle to document the people of the North Coast and I think if we don’t do it as artists, who will? We have some amazing personalities here and, as an artist, I think it’s wonderful to record those people and their stories.”

Lismore Regional Gallery director Brett Adlington said they were blown away not only by the number of entries but also by the impressively high standard.

“The initial response from all the judges was ‘Wow, this is an amazing selection of works’ and we knew it was going to be a tough decision to pick the finalists,” Brett said. “There was a lot of work we couldn’t include – I was surprised we had that many entries for the first year and both surprised and gratified to be presented with such a great selection of paintings and drawings, and such a wonderful bunch of characters. It tells a broad story of the people in our community and made me realise what a wealth of talent there is in the area.

“This year we couldn’t fit everything in and whittling them down was very difficult – we had to cull a sizeable chunk of very good art,” he said. “Hopefully the prize will continue to grow in the future and what I’d love to see in a couple of years time is a bigger space to hang all the entries.

“I was also really surprised and happy we got quite a number of artists from outside the area – they may not live here but they have a connection with the area and the people who live here.”

Finalists in the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize were notified this week but the artworks are being kept tightly under wraps until opening night on Friday, April 23, when the winners will be announced. People then have until May 29 to vote for the $500 People’s Choice Award.


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