National Art School resurrects drawing prize in honour of William Dobell

Feb 27, 2018 | Dobell Drawing Prize

By Linda Morris, Sydney Morning Herald – 27 February 2018

One of Australia’s most prestigious prizes for drawing is to be revived after it was discontinued six years ago.

The National Art School will become the new home of the Dobell Drawing Prize when it is reinstituted from March 2019 during a 10-week ”mini festival” dedicated to the art form.

Longer term, Australia’s oldest art school is keen to develop a national centre for drawing to underline the importance of the fundamental visual skill in traditional art practice as well as conceptual, performance and digital art, video and film.

Once seen to be a dying art, even photo media artists are now putting drawing at the heart of their work.

The refreshed Dobell Drawing Prize will run alternative years and, like the Archibald Prize, be an open competition but with artists, rather than trustees, as judges.

Finalists of the $30,000 prize will be exhibited at the art school alongside a drawing symposium and drawing workshops and their works toured to western Sydney and regional galleries.

Archibald Prize winner William Dobell, for whom the prize is named, would call into the Darlinghurst art school on his way to the Supreme Court in 1944 where two disaffected prize entrants challenged the authenticity of Dobell’s exaggerated study of his painter friend, Joshua Smith.

As a graphic artist who painted camouflage at the outbreak of war, drawing was the foundation for all Dobell’s work.

The artist was eventually vindicated in the famous decision Attorney-General v Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW, but the legal action almost broke him, says art school director Steven Alderton, though Dobell went on to win the Archibald again with a more conventional study of art school alumni, Margaret Olley.

On his death, Dobell’s estate provided funding for an annual drawing competition and prize. In 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the Dobell Prize for Drawing, the Art Gallery of NSW announced the prize would be replaced with a biennial invitation-only exhibition.

“We don’t know why the Art Gallery of NSW repurposed the prize. But we want the Dobell Drawing Prize to be an open call to artists and what we want to continue and build on is the energy of so many artists in the room making art through drawing.

“It’s not just an exhibition. We want to use the Dobell Drawing Prize to be a vehicle in which drawing is successful and celebrated.”

Drawing was at the core of Australia’s longest running art school, Mr Alderton said. Photo media graduate Justine Varga controversially won the Olive Cotton Prize for her work, Maternal Line, a portrait of her grandmother who inscribed her mark and spittle on a sheet of negatives.

The prize would be open to performance and digital art and physical size would be about the only constraint limiting entrants, Mr Alderton said.

Paula Latos-Valier, art director of prize sponsors, the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation, said the prize would champion the idea of peer group assessment by inviting respected practising artists to select the finalists and determine the prize-winner.

“The Dobell Foundation is thrilled that an acquisitive prize means that the winning work goes into a public collection and leaves a tangible legacy for future generations.”