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Blak & Blu celebrates the bravery of using ballpoint

Four prize winners were chosen from 20 finalists in the second Blak & Blu art award for drawings which use black and/or blue biros on A4 paper announced on September 10.

Danielle Joy Golding (for “The Dream Police”), Felix Morgan (for “Breakfast with the Needy”) and Neil Hicks (for “Crow Dreaming”) were named joint winners of the Blak & Blu award, which carries a $1,000 prize and specifies that works must comment on a social or environmental issue.

The junior award, sponsored by Art on King in Newtown, went to Jasmin Rose for her work “Mulberry Margaret” – a portrait of her beloved grandmother, Margaret Vazey, who died earlier this year and was an ardent conservationist and wonderful artist.

Three times Archibald Prize finalist Dee Smart, who judged the award, said she’d found it extremely hard to choose between the finalists because “each had hit the mark with what they were trying to say – and their narrative was important.

“I’m also a big fan of the blue and black pen,” she said, “I think it’s extraordinary. It leaves no room for anything but bravery.”

Blak & Blu is sponsored by Redfern-based Dhungatti artist Blak Douglas (Archibald Winner 2022) who co-created the grassroots creative art prize with the Rev. Andrew Collis, minister of South Sydney Uniting Church.

Mr Douglas said he really enjoyed the fact Blak & Blu entries must be biro on A4 paper or card, “because most of us begin our art practices that way – drawing on something with a pen”.

His favourite medium for playful dickering, he added, was ballpoint pen on a banana.

“There is no greater feel for your hand than a biro on a banana skin. And I bet you are all going to go home and try it!”

He said the Blak & Blu prize paid tribute to an Aboriginal artist who had been considerably unacknowledged in the course of history.

“Everybody knows Albert Namatjira – and he tends to be celebrated as the greatest Aboriginal artist in Australian history. But not many people are aware of Uncle Tommy McRae who is from the southern part of the continent and was the first Indigenous person to ever draw with a pen in a visual diary.

“You rarely see these artworks because they remain in visual diaries. But if you are lucky enough to visit the National Gallery of Australia or the National Gallery of Victoria, you’ll see them laid out in a display case.

“We wanted to specifically acknowledge this award after Tommy McRae and his amazing artwork.”

Erskineville resident, Sherwin Peniel Smith, received a highly commended award for her artwork “Loneliness”, conceived in response to Covid-19 with its extended lockdowns and social distancing.

“I thought I would cope with Covid quite well because I’ve always lived on my own but I found I really missed mundane conversations.

“It was also really interesting to go back to something so basic in the drawing skill – and it’s actually very hard to draw with a biro. You don’t have the subtlety of a pencil.”

Ms Smart said the focus of the award on biro drawings reminded her of when her mother was dying. “We were all sitting around her bed for a long time and, in her bag, was the pen. So, I drew her; many portraits of her. And to me they are the most poignant, special pieces of art that I’ve been able to communicate …”

Ms Peniel Smith said the Blak & Blu prize was great because you could enter without the huge expense of having your work framed.

“There must be so many people in the same position who would like to show artworks to other people but they don’t get the option. It’s a fantastic venue.”

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The Blak & Blu exhibition is at the Orchard Gallery (56a Raglan St, Waterloo) until September 30.

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