2020 Gallipoli Art Prize Winner reflects on Rural Fire Service bravery

Gallipoli Art Prize Alison Mackay, Breathe, 2020 (detail)Alison Mackay has been announced as the winner of the 2020 Gallipoli Art Prize for her powerful work Breathe – depicting nine different gas masks, mostly from WWI.

A NSW south coast resident, Alison began thinking about breathing masks and respirators over the summer period when the bushfires were at their worst. “We spent New Year’s Eve dressed in masks and goggles to protect our eyes and lungs from smoke as we stayed to defend our home from potential ember attack,” she said.

“It was a scary time for everyone, but particularly it reminded me what an extraordinary job the RFS were doing day after day to keep us all safe. We owe them a great debt of thanks for their bravery. Their courage and comradeship reminded me of the ANZAC spirit,” said Ms Mackay.

Alison Mackay’s work has focused mainly on still life painting using oils over the last 15 years. She has exhibited throughout Australia, including seven solo shows and her work is held in private and public collections including Bundanon Collection and National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (as part of the Animalia print collection).

She has been selected as a finalist in numerous art prizes including The Archibald, The Portia Geach Memorial Award for female portraiture, the National Still Life Award and NSW Parliament’s Plein Air Painting Prize. Alison works mainly from her studio at St George’s Basin (Jervis Bay) where she paints directly from life, however she also spends time working ‘en plein air’ in the landscape around her home and further afield.

“With the world now battling corona virus, the painting has a certain prescience although it was painted before the first case of COVID 19 was diagnosed in Australia,” said John Robertson, Gallipoli Memorial Club President and one of the judges of the prize. “The title Breathe is perhaps a timely reminder that, in these difficult days, we all need to take a moment to breathe.”

Alison Mackay has been a finalist in this major national prize for the last 7 years with a range of works reflecting the Gallipoli Club’s creed of loyalty, courage, respect, comradeship and love of country. “I’ve explored different and often quite personal themes for this prize over the last 7 years,” she said. “There’s always a diverse and interesting range of paintings in the exhibition, so I’m really thrilled to have won this year.”

The judges also announced two highly commended awards: The Telegram by Lori Pensini (Boyup Brook, WA) for her painting of a woman receiving devastating news via telegram; and Major Smith’s Petrichor by Diedre Bean (Newcastle, NSW) for her watercolour of L1A1 gas-operated semi-automatic rifle, the standard issue personal weapon for Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Now in its 15th year, The Gallipoli Art Prize invited artists to respond to the broad themes of the Gallipoli Club’s creed. The works do not need to depict warfare, nor do they need to relate, directly or indirectly, to any conflict.

Due to Covid19 restrictions the Gallipoli Art Prize will not be hung in a public exhibition at this time. People are invited to experience the works online at www.gallipoliartprize.org.au.

In an innovative development for the Gallipoli Memorial Club, a virtual tour of the exhibition using 360 degree photography will also be available via the website from Tuesday 21 April 2020. Developed by filmmaker Luke Banfield (Balderdash Films), the virtual tour allows viewers to walk through the exhibition, zoom in on individual works and click for more information on each work.

The Gallipoli Memorial Club is hopeful that a physical exhibition of this year’s prize can take place in Sydney later in the year. For more information, visit: www.gallipoliartprize.org.au for details.

Image: Alison Mackay Breathe, 2020 (detail) – courtesy of the artist and the Gallipoli Art Prize