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Modernist Abstract Drawing Wins 2021 Parkin Drawing Prize

‘In search of the Saccharine Underground’ by Mark Braunias

Mark Braunias from Kawhia, Waikato has been announced the winner of the 2021 Parkin Drawing Prize and $25,000 – sponsored by Chris Parkin, arts patron, and philanthropist.

Mark’s large-scale work ‘In search of the Saccharine Underground’, using ink and acrylic on industrial builders’ paper, was chosen as the winner from an impressive 563 entries nationwide and 80 finalists at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts’ Academy Galleries on Monday 2 August.

Reflecting on the winning artwork, Dr Sarah Farrar, the judge for this year’s prize said:

“As I walked around the Academy of Fine Art’s Queens Wharf galleries to view the 80 finalists in this year’s Parkin Drawing Prize, Mark Braunias’ work, ‘In Search of the Saccharine Underground’, kept pulling me into its orbit. Its raucous energy is irrepressible and hard to ignore.

Viewing the work, I felt transported into the artist’s studio where the ink and acrylic paint had only just been applied to the paper. In contrast to the exquisite, finely-wrought surfaces of some of the other finalists’ works, Braunias’ work is fresh, spirited and uncontainable. The artist’s seemingly spontaneous and intuitive mark-making is audacious, comic, and compelling.

The sign of a good artwork is that it continues to intrigue and delight over multiple viewings. I remain fascinated, slightly puzzled and powerfully drawn to Mark’s work.”

Mark, who was also a finalist for the Parkin Drawing Prize in 2018, is blown away with the award.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting to win so I am feeling quite overwhelmed. The great thing about the Parkin is it allows you to draw a range of genres and styles.

‘In Search of the Saccharine Underground’ is related to the work I have been doing over the past 20 years and is very much a halfway point between drawing and painting. I wanted to put this into a more overt context about what is going on behind the work – taking the cute and giving it a formal modernist edge. It’s not just about doing cartoons and something funny but there is a seriousness behind the work.”

According to Mark in his artist statement “‘Saccharine Underground' as an expression used in the late 1960s to define certain aspects of contemporary pop music, which had a formal ‘heavy’ edge but was presented with ironic superficiality. It both challenged and mocked the social message recordings of the highly fashionable ‘counterculture’ at that time.

Using a bent out of shape modernist abstract visual language this work presents an alternative narrative to NZ’s historical national obsession in art with 'meaning' and the ‘Gothic’. Brightly sketched-in ‘Kiddy’ colours oscillate in and around seemingly 'cartoonish' forms and shapes but are drawn with serious formal intent.”

A well-known contemporary painter, Mark’s well crafted, irreverent, and witty personal style has been showcased in public exhibitions around the country for the past 30 years.

He studied at the Canterbury School of Fine Arts in Christchurch, graduating in 1987 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He was the inaugural winner of the Wallace Art Award in 1992 and his work is held in major public, corporate and private collections in New Zealand and overseas.

In 2011, Mark was awarded a Fulbright/Wallace scholarship to take up a residency at the Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco. Over the past five years Mark has been a full-time artist living in Kawhia, a coastal fishing village off the west coast of the Waikato. Previously he taught part-time at Unitec Design School in Auckland.

“I love living in Kawhia. It’s a beautiful, quiet town that enables me to concentrate and immerse myself fully in my work.”

Dr Sarah Farrar also awarded 10 highly commended prizes worth $500 each. The recipients include:

Martin Ball for Remnant VII (Auckland), Gareth Barlow for The Resurrection of Kahungunu (Sydney), Anton Chapman for Escalation (Moraine and Mountain) (Auckland), Belinda Griffiths for Emerge (Auckland), Weilun Ha for Hydra (Auckland), Colin Luxton for Jar (Te Aroha), Sue Pearce for Your Perfect Face 2 (Dunedin), Connah Podmore for Light Held Light (Wellington), Fleur Stevenson for A Journey’s Drawing (Sydney), and Marion Wassenaar for Carbon Shroud (Dunedin).

The Parkin Drawing Prize exhibition season runs until 29 August at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts Gallery Academy Galleries, Queens Wharf, Wellington. All the artworks will be for sale giving admirers and collectors the opportunity to purchase some wonderful pieces.

Further information on the award and exhibition can be found on

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