Adelaide artist Margaret Ambridge won the 2020 Pro Hart Outback Art Prize for her drawing, Struggling to Remember, triumphing over a record number of entries.
- The Pro Hart Outback Art Prize was judged online this year, putting more weight on the supporting statements of artists
- The winner, Adelaide-based Margaret Ambridge, says she hopes she’ll get the chance to see her work exhibited in NSW
- Ambridge prevailed over a record number of entries, despite having questioned the validity of art because of the pressure of COVID-19
The work, created with charcoal Ambridge collected from firegrounds, depicts South Australia’s Gawler Ranges.
Ambridge also incorporated rain drops into the drawing.
“The interruption of raindrops falling on the iron roof of the studio seemed so at odds with the parched land I was drawing,” she said.
“I raced outside with this piece of paper and all these great heavy raindrops fell on it.
Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre director, Susi Muddiman, who was a guest judge, said Ambridge’s work stood out because of the connection between her materials and narrative.
“What I look for is a really strong narrative as well as the visual,” Ms Muddiman said.
Choosing a winner over video conference
The Pro Hart Outback Art Prize is named after one of the five Brushmen of the Bush, Kevin Charles “Pro” Hart, who was known for his colourful abstract works and depictions of outback life.
It is the far west’s biggest art award, with a total prize pool of $23,000.
This year, 23 finalists were selected from a record 474 entries submitted by artists from across the country.
Coronavirus restrictions forced the exhibition’s opening night online and the judging process happened over lengthy video conference calls.
Ms Muddiman said whittling down the entries to a single winner without seeing the artworks in person was “a real learning curve”.
She said this year most artists put more effort into the written statement supporting their work.
“Like the eyes are the mirror to the soul, the first thing you look at is the visual,” Ms Muddiman said.
“But sometimes when you read something it gives you extra layers of meaning, which is certainly what happened for me in this case.”
Broken Hill artist Ann Evers took out second place for Contained and Baked in the Desert, a collection of flora and fauna encased in woven vessels.
The value of art during a pandemic
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery director Tara Callaghan said it was difficult to know whether the record number of submissions this year was due to artists having more time to be creative during lockdown or the growing reputation of the prize.
“Definitely there were hold-ups with freight and things like that,” she said.
“So everything just gets that little bit harder.”
Ambridge said she hoped the South Australian border restrictions would be lifted so she could travel to Broken Hill and see her winning artwork hanging on the wall of the Regional Art Gallery.
Ambridge, a physiotherapist, said she questioned the value of art as the pressure in her job increased.
“The effect on palliative care was immense because people couldn’t travel for their loved ones,” she said.
“Over time came to the realisation that it is important — for me, and trying to find that voice in the art for the rest of the community too.”