SALA – The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize – 3.5K

By Peter Maddern

Australia’s richest natural history art prize is now in its tenth year and with age its reputation continues also to grow. The finalists in the four categories are now on display in the SA Museum until 9th September.

While there may have been a record number of entries (6000+ from 29 countries), this year the exhibition is very possibly not at its strongest, perhaps evidenced by the paucity of sales of the works displayed. Still, the Waterhouse does deliver on variety and approach to its natural world focus as well as at any previous time. Of note for this critic were a number of the paintings, sculptures and one youth work.

Hugh Adamson’s Hay Plain Dawn is a very emotive view of that desperately flat landscape blurrily welcoming the new day with all plants featured stoically surviving in what can be harsh conditions. Paul Ryan’s Am I Demon depicts a confronting, mouth foaming, rancid Tasmanian Devil coming out of the otherwise white canvas at us. At once we can be afraid and sense the instinctive need the devil has to scare, on the other we can observe its own fear and despair as its bloody mouth possesses all the sad hallmarks of Devil Facial Tumours, a scourge that is wiping the species out. Finally amongst the paintings, Gladdy Kemarre’s Anwekety also packs a punch. Sure, it is ‘another’ dot painting but this shimmers with great force, like observing a southern aurora only in red with the million yellow dots giving the whole a sense of distinction and balance. It really strikes you as you enter the exhibition.

Amongst the sculptures, Catherine Reid’s Leaf Cabinet is a ceramic work that displays the most deft touch, skill, patience and beauty. In contrast, at least at first visual glance, is Margarita Sampson’s category winning Anemone Incursions II. Here a bright big red creature consumes a regal chair like a discarded frilly shawl after the night before, highlighting its native disposition to inhabit whatever home it can secure and posing, despite its sedentary posture, a threat to all other creatures than may wish to take it on. Runner-up in the category is Tom Moore’s Circle of Birds, five bird beaks made of glass pointing straight up off a glass table. Each in their own right is an extraordinary technical achievement and together a delight unless you make the mistake of trying to sit on them.

In the Youth category, local glass artist and recent Uni SA grad, Zoe Woods again draws praise for her Microcosm I, a beautiful octagonal blown glass, wheel cut curio, with its attraction resting in the object within it, something that reminds, albeit in miniature, the brightly lit ceiling of a casino. She too was the winner of her (Youth) category.

As always, there is so much variety of styles and subject matter in the Waterhouse exhibition that debate will be intense as to the merits of individual works and the judges’ opinions. Thus its beauty as well as its role to raise awareness of environmental issues through art.

Kryztoff Rating   3.5K

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