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Blak & Blu art award draws passionate responses

Four prize winners were chosen from 19 finalists in the inaugural Blak & Blu art award for ink on A4 paper announced on December 11.

Gloria Liang and Jo Tracy were named joint winners of the Blak & Blu award for their intimate drawings, depicting life during the Covid-19 pandemic and Sydney’s 2021 lockdown.

Artist and multiple Archibald Prize Finalist Kathrin Longhurst, who judged the award, said she’d found it difficult to choose winners because all of the artists had poured so much passion for social justice into their entries.

The $1,000 prize money (for the adult award) was split between the joint winners who had responded to the theme authentically, she said, exposing the vulnerability felt during Covid times.

Ms Longhurst said she had awarded highly commended to Grace Wilkinson because her drawing of Waterloo Library in lockdown showed she had familiarised herself with her subject matter – observing, studying and then translating this for others to connect with.

The youth award, sponsored by Parkers Fine Art Supplies, went to Luke Higgins who was not present at the ceremony because he was at an entry level artist workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Luke’s artwork and its message that “we are all the same on the inside” was both beautiful and optimistic Ms Longhurst said.

Redfern artist Blak Douglas, who co-devised Blak & Blu with Andrew Collis, said he was proud to be launching the award which was “all about the ink” – and especially the kind of ideas that come to you while you’re “waiting for the pasta to boil” or “at the pub doodling on a coaster”.

He said everyone can draw and with great freedom in our formative years as children. However, when we get to school, we are taught to conform; draw a certain way and colour within the lines.

“It’s kind of corrupting …

“The beautiful thing I’ve seen in our entrants to the inaugural Blak & Blu is the diversity and the freedom of their efforts that I would not employ when constructing a drawing because I’ve been corrupted to create the way I do.

“It’s been an honour and a blessing.”

Blak Douglas also praised the work of 19th-century Kwatkwat (north-eastern Victoria) artist Tommy McRae who had inspired him to establish the Blak & Blu award.

“Here’s a man that was handed a diary by a colonist of the era … to have a crack at drawing Western style. It’s just remarkable. This is the first Aboriginal person to draw with ink on paper.”

Andrew Collis said that while the Orchard Gallery in Waterloo had been operating for 13 years, Blak & Blu was the gallery’s first art prize.

“I personally found the Blak & Blu prompt to be very inspiring and a therapeutic practice. It meant keeping our eyes open and our hands busy during a very challenging time.

“Art matters in diverse modes. In protest. Descriptive and expressive modes. Satirical. Whimsical.

“Art mediates between us, between reality and possibility.”

In 2022 the Blak & Blu award will seek entries mid-year for a September launch and award ceremony.

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