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Byron Shire
May 11, 2021

Lismore icon’s portrait a winner

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Members of the Knitting Nanas in front of Rhonda Baker’s portrait of Knitting Nana, Clare Twomey, which was bought by art dealer Phillip Bacon as a gift for the Lismore Regional Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Photo supplied.

Dominic Feain

The popular portrait of community leader Jenny London received wide applause when it took out this year’s Northern Rivers Portrait Prize at a packed Lismore Regional Art Gallery on Saturday.

The ‘emotive and compelling’ painting by local artist and teacher, Rene Bolten, drew glowing praise from the judge, Brisbane art dealer Philip Bacon, who said he could have bestowed the $10,000 prize on any of 10 of the finalists.

Art gallery director Brett Adlington agreed the strong field made for another compelling portrait prize, now in its fourth year.

‘Mr Bacon stated that with the restrictive nature of this prize he wasn’t expecting anything great, but instead he was amazed by the quality of the works which he said really indicated the strength of the visual arts in this region,’ Mr Adlington said.

‘The announcement of Rene Bolten as the winner with his exceptional and heartfelt portrait of ex-RED Inc. chief executive, Jenny London, was incredibly well received due to the warmth the community feels towards both Rene and Jenny.’

Realising Every Dream (RED) Inc. is a local organisation which supports, protects and encourages people with diverse abilities, encouraging people with disabilities so they are valued and included in the mainstream of community life.

In a further feel-good twist, Mr Bacon, Margaret Olley’s former agent, announced that he was purchasing Rhonda Baker’s portrait of Knitting Nana Clare Twomey as a gift for the regional gallery’s permanent collection, much to the delight of several ‘noisy’ nanas in the audience.

‘This work, depicting Twomey in her role as an anti-CSG campaigner and Knitting Nana, will capture a point in time when this issue galvanised the community in opposition,’ Mr Adlington said.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell thanked Mr Bacon for his generosity, which also included a $5,000 pledge to the new gallery.

‘(He) spoke about it being a commentary on a big social issue effecting this region and felt it an appropriate painting, but it was very much out of the blue (as was) his pledge of $5000 towards the new gallery,’ she said.

Cr Dowell added that the pledges had now topped $166,000 which was a long way over the initial target of $100,000, and highlighted the public’s support for a new gallery.

‘It was a wonderful event, as always, [but] it’s unfortunate that four or five of the finalist’s portraits were on the stairs or the landing upstairs which means a certain number of people who go to see the prize won’t be able to see those works – another reason why we need the new gallery,’ she said.

Cr Dowell said she was delighted that the critical winner of the prize was also a popular choice, an uncommon outcome in contemporary portrait prizes.

‘Rene is a well-respected artist and teacher of art and a lovely man and of course his subject, Jenny London, is a wonderful member of our community so it was a great pairing and a terrific choice by Mr Bacon,’ Cr Dowell said.

Lina Buck’s portrait, Mother 2013, won the under 30s Armsign award and will remain on display at the gallery with the other finalists until July 14.

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