Enigmatic large-format collage announced as winner of the prestigious Bowness Photography Prize

AAR-MGA-Bowness-Lillian-O’Neil-Drawing-to-a-close-2020Over the last 16 years, the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize has emerged as an important annual survey of contemporary photographic practice in Australia and one of the most prestigious prizes in the country.

The prize was established by the MGA Foundation in 2005 with the aim of supporting MGA and its significant collection, as well as its unique commitment to photographic art.

The 2021 judging panel: acclaimed artist Del Kathryn Barton, MGA Director Anouska Phizacklea and Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Australia, Karen Quinlan AM – selected 52 works from over 730 entries.

This selection of works make up the exhibition now on display at MGA. The exhibition was initially launched as a virtual experience, however with the further easing of restrictions the public can now visit the gallery.

This timely change to restrictions also allowed the three judges to meet in person and assess the works in the exhibition space to determine the $30,000 winner and three Colour Factory Honourable Mentions.

The winning work, by artist Lillian O’Neil, is a large-format collage of found photographic images, enlarged, cropped and reconceptualised to create an enigmatic composition entitled Drawing to a close (2020).

The work is tactile in its materiality, with collaged elements stitched together so as to prompt multiple interpretations and draw connections between subject matter and sensation. O’Neil’s practice is founded in archival processes by amassing material that she scans, cuts and wields adeptly into compositions that bind history to the present moment.

“I use photographic material found in pre-digital books and magazines to create large-scale, analogue collages. The aesthetics of obsolete print technology, with muted or no colour and varied textures, give me a kind of access to the past and make tangible lapses of time,” said Artist, Lillian O’Neil.

“Through a long process of collection, cutting and editing, I re-contextualise groups of images and weave them into new scenarios where personal memories intertwine with cultural histories of ruin, loss but also more positive aspirations.”

Anouska Phizacklea, MGA Gallery Director said Lillian O’Neil’s Drawing to a close is a powerful large-scale collage that intelligently speaks to the cannons of art history, cultural memory and archival processes.

“The work draws you in – it is both a united work and one that separates and breaks apart in front of you. It prompts you to question the associations made between the found images, as there does not appear to be one reading which makes it all the more enigmatic.”

“There is intrigue, empowerment, desire and the female gaze present in the work that culminates in a seamless composition, one that has a tactile materiality about it as on close inspection the edges of each collaged element is visible.”

“We are delighted that the acquisitive prize introduces the work of O’Neil into MGA’s collection with a work that demonstrates the complexity of the photographic medium,” said Phizacklea.

Lillian O’Neil (1985– ) is a Melbourne artist. She graduated Master of Fine Art at Sydney College of the Arts, The University of Sydney in 2012 and in 2020, she commenced a Doctor of Philosophy at RMIT, Melbourne, supervised by Mikala Dwyer.

O’Neil works with found images from archives, books and magazines to create large-scale collages. Her work has been included in a number of noteworthy exhibitions in Australia and internationally, including at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (Melbourne), the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra) and Artspace (Sydney).

O’Neil has also been awarded numerous grants, undertaken large-scale commissions and her work is held in state and national institutions.

“As a museum object this work brings together, through the process of analogue collage, photographic imagery that evokes curiosity and meaning for its viewer and for me this imagery thrives on subtlety and is not a work that you can bypass,” said Karen Quinlan AM, Director of the National Portrait Gallery.

“In fact I found myself intrigued and my gaze lengthy each time I viewed it. The curious arrangement, the playful time consuming process with a deliberate perspective, the reclining male with the presence of female… For me, it references the concept of the Exquisite Corpse, perhaps the Surrealism movement, making it even more compelling.”

“I was moved by this work the moment I viewed it the space; it has presence and is masterful and I congratulate the artist Lillian O’Neill for its creation,” said Quinlan.

After lengthy deliberation, the judging panel commends the work of three additional finalists: Colour Factory Honourable Mentions have been awarded to Lauren Bamford for her intimate and odd diptych titled Easter egg hunt and Dot’s apple (2021), to Shea Kirk for his compelling and raw double portrait Dina Scintilla (left and right view) (2021) and to Ali Tahayori for his altered family archive photograph that speaks to an undisclosed trauma in Sisterhood (2021).

Smith & Singer (previously Sotheby’s Australia) became the proud sponsor of the People’s Choice Award in 2018. Smith & Singer is Australia’s premium fine art dealership facilitating the purchase and sale of important historical, modern and contemporary Australian and international art.

Their significant philanthropic support of the Bowness Photography Prize is a reflection of the national and historic importance of this prize and the MGA Foundation is profoundly grateful. Voting for the Smith & Singer People’s Choice Award is open until the last day of the exhibition, Sunday 5 December 2021.

The William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize Exhibition is now on display at the Monash Gallery of Art (MGA) until 5 December 2021. For more information, visit: www.mga.org.au for details. To Vote in the Smith & Singer Poeple’s Choice Award, visit: www.culturecounts.cc

Image: Lillian O’Neil, Drawing to a close, 2020 pigment ink-jet prints 183.0 x 183.0 cm – courtesy of the artist and The Commercial (Sydney)