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Painting Of Leading Māori Environmental Activist Wins 2024 Adam Portraiture Award

Maryanne Shearman. Photo/Supplied.

Maryanne Shearman from Taranaki has been announced the winner of the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award and a $20,000 cash prize.

Maryanne’s work Tuhi-Ao, an oil painting on canvas depicting Tuhi-Ao Bailey, a prominent Māori climate activist from Taranaki, was chosen as the winner from a recording breaking 451 entries and 37 finalists at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata on Wednesday 22 May.

Felicity Milburn, Lead Curator at Christchurch Art Gallery, worked alongside Wellington painter Karl Maughan to select the shortlist over the period of several weeks.

Reflecting on the winning artwork the judges said:

“We saw much more than just exceptional realism in this striking work; it’s a brilliant piece of painting. The artist has captured the subject’s face and smile in a way that makes her alive with joy, but also gives a strong sense of her character and life beyond this moment. The light plays across her face, her hand points to us and welcomes us in with a gesture that is dignified and generous. But it was the artist’s combination of accuracy with looseness that lifted the work for us. The bush in the background is softly, almost enigmatically rendered in contrast to the foreground, so it doesn’t distract or detract from our connection with the subject. Occasional flourishes of brushwork in the plants around the edges add depth and movement to the composition.The artist has succeeded in capturing an authentic and layered sense of the subject’s character and her sense of openness and fun. Together, these elements brought us back to all the things that painting can be.”

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Shearman says she is overwhelmed with the award.

"I am really honoured and humbled to be the recipient of this prestigious award. When I was named a finalist, I was blown away but to win is just incredible, especially as I am aware of the talent, experience and skill of the artists shortlisted. It’s still sinking in.”

Ōakura-based artist Maryanne Shearman grew up in Lower Hutt but moved to Taranaki in 2014 after travelling there on a bus with her young family. She describes her paintings as depictions of biculturalism, hope, and sustainability, noting that her most politically charged piece to date was her portrayal of ecologist and community organizer Tuhi-Ao Bailey.

“Tuhi-Ao Bailey is one of Aotearoa’s leading climate activists, an unwavering voice for kaitiakitanga. She has always struck me as a person living her kaupapa, authentic to a fault. I initially planned on capturing her characteristic solemn expression; I hoped her mournful eyes would disrupt us, but in the end she and I decided on this pose - a full smile mid-kōrero, a gesture which captures the light. She is standing in the Parihaka food-forest, next to the awa Waitotoroa. Ko ia te whenua, ko te whenua ko ia.”

The 38-year-old says a love of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga and a sincere desire to live out faith, justice, and an authentic Treaty relationship as a pākehā woman informs her work and guides her future plans.

“In recent years I have honed my skill and developed confidence to make connections with the kaupapa I am passionate about. Learning te reo and studying history and whakapapa has deeply affected my work. I have had several sell-out solo exhibitions, and begun to pursue exposure outside of Taranaki.

The runner-up and winner of the $2,500 second prize was awarded to Hazel Rae from Christchurch for her work, Lindsey’s Garden, an oil paint on canvas of which the judges said:

“This work shows a clever understanding of composition, drawing our eyes into and around it in a way that is both skillful and rewarding. The rendering of the leaves, fruit and flowers is remarkable, and we loved how the subject herself becomes part of the garden...

For the first time in the award’s history, the judges have generously funded their own special ‘Third Prize’ Award of $1,500 to Clark Roworth from Wellington for his work Me and Lady P, an oil paint, of which the judges said:

“There’s an undeniable sense of attitude to this work that reflects the charisma of the subject, who is depicted in his own space, being exactly who he is. From the hair, to the glasses, to the toy lion, every element offers us insight into this person. ... In this painting’s spirit of ‘more is more’, we were moved to create an additional one-off judges’ prize in order to bring this unforgettable work into the mix.”

The Adam Portraiture Award exhibition will run at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakata in Shed 11 on Wellington’s waterfront from 23 May to 11 August 2024, after this, the exhibition will be touring nationally. Most of the artworks will be for sale giving admirers and collectors the opportunity to purchase some wonderful pieces which are unlikely to be seen again, while the New Zealand Portrait Gallery will acquire the winning work. The public can also vote for their choice to win the People’s Choice Award – a cash prize of $2,500, announced at the close of the exhibition.

All 37 finalists, as well as comments from the judges about the work, will screen on Parliament TV (Sky Channel 86, Freeview Channel 31) in June, on Urban Art Foundation’s arTVox programme.

Further information on the award and exhibition can be found at https://www.nzportraitgallery.org.nz/adam-portraiture-award

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