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By Ashleigh Synnott
October 02, 2013

Blake Prize 2013

An exploration of the religious and spiritual in a world growing increasingly apathetic.
By Ashleigh Synnott
October 02, 2013

Trevor Nickolls made history this year when his painting Metamorphosis – a vital, colourful and optimistic exploration of transformation –  was awarded this year's Blake Prize. It's the first time in history the prize has been awarded posthumously.

"His spirit is definitely with us," said Nickolls' agent of six years, Angelika Tyrone, who was at the College Of Fine Arts in Paddington to accept the award. She spoke of Nickolls' pioneering role in urban Aboriginal art and his enduring legacy. The $25,000 prize will go towards supporting an emerging Indigenous artist through the Trevor Nickolls Art Award.

Since 1951, the prestigious Blake Prize has been awarded to an artwork that encourages an ongoing conversation about spirituality and the religious imagination. Metamorphosis was one of three works of Nickolls' which featured spirits and were completed shortly before his death in 2012, at the age of 63. It took the artist two months to complete the painting, inspired by the transformation of the physical being into the spiritual.

"He's got the mimi spirit  [an ancestral being from the Dreamtime] and the Aboriginal man, with butterfly wings on either side, and then the peace doves too which are almost helping elevate him to heaven," said Tyrone.

"That's what Trevor said the painting was about – going from the corporate realm to the spiritual realm. He did a lot of these works that are similar."

Born in Adelaide in 1949, Nickolls received a scholarship to go to art school and was the first Aboriginal artist to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale with Rover Thomas in 1990.  He loved the colour of the earth and was heavily influenced by his early years teaching himself to draw by copying comic books. There is this kind of bright playfulness in Metamorphosis which includes elements that are both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal, and incorporates themes of the Dreamtime as well as influences of city life such as machines and technology.

The 62nd Blake Prize was announced along with the winners of the Blake Poetry Prize (Anthony Lawrence), the John Coburn Emerging Artist Award (David Capra) and the MUA Blake Prize for Human Justice, awarded to Adelaide Australian art world veteran, Franz Kempf AM, who tutored Nickolls in South Australia. Kempf's work, "The Outrageous Has Become Commonplace" was both a beautiful and haunting exploration of complacency and grief.

The 73 shortlisted artworks will be exhibited to the public at Galleries UNSW at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) from Friday 18 October to Saturday 16 November, presented alongside the winning and highly commended poems for the 6th Blake Poetry Prize.

Image: Trevor Nickolls, Metamorphosis

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