2014 Geelong contemporary art prize winner

The blog has been quiet of late but it would be remiss of me not to cover the prestigious $30,000 Geelong contemporary art prize which opened last night to a buzzing crowd of about 500 people. Doors opened at 6.00 pm and there was almost a stampede to get in! This exhibition, encompassing what Geoffrey Edwards accurately described as “the astonishing vitality and sophistication of current Australian painting”, is a real treat for anyone interested in contemporary painting practice. Thanks so much to the Gallery and Dimmick Charitable Trust for presenting such an excellent exhibition that reflects the diversity in Australian contemporary painting and proves yet again that painting is as relevant as it ever was. There is only one winner but to my mind the quality of work on display suggests that the prize could have gone to any number of works. (Another blog post perhaps?) Congratulations to all the artists shortlisted for the prize and in particular to the winner of the 2014 Geelong contemporary art prize, Rob McHaffie who took out the prize with his work Preserve this fruit which has been acquired by the Gallery.
Here is the media release from Geelong Gallery announcing the winner.


A bright, colourful and whimsical work by 36 year old Melbourne-based artist Rob McHaffie is the winner of the 2014 Geelong contemporary art prize, Geelong Gallery’s biennial acquisitive award for contemporary painting.

Rob McHaffie’s Preserve this fruit is highly representative of the artist’s practice in which he presents small vignettes of observed everyday life: portraits of characters both real and imagined. His vibrant paintings skilfully simulate the appearance of collage: each of the compositions’ elements derived from various source materials or pages of magazines. This award winning work—the first by McHaffie to be acquired by the Geelong Gallery—depicts a singular figure of an elderly man in profile in a style reminiscent of Asian shadow puppets and temple paintings.

Rob McHaffie Preserve this fruitWinner—2014 Geelong contemporary art prize
Rob McHaffie
Preserve this fruit 2013
oil on linen
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.

The artist’s interest in these traditional art forms flourished during a 2011 Asialink residency at Rimbun Dahan, near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Following this he lived in Thailand for an extended period of time, where he worked with cut paper to create collages: ‘sketches’ that form the basis for his paintings. Just as the figure in this work is ‘constructed’ from paper cut from the pages of a magazine, McHaffie constructs an imaginary narrative between this elderly gentleman—representative of traditional Thai life—and the silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson, who in the years after the Second World War, reinvigorated the Thai silk industry.

As the artist states, ‘The figure in this painting is inspired by the traditional Thai folk painting styles that adorn the walls of great temples like Wat Pho [the Temple of the Reclining Buddha] in Bangkok. The old man represents the accommodating and good-humoured nature I have found in Thailand. He is part of a small narrative I was imagining about Jim Thompson first meeting with Thai locals. The conversation might go, “Hello Jim my name, I’m very interested in preserving your silk culture here.” The old man may answer, “You can preserve this fruit if you like”.’

‘Thai culture seems to have changed so rapidly from the idyllic life depicted on the temple walls to Thai Vogue and the Jim Thompson scarves you can now buy at Suvarnabhumi International Airport,’ Mr McHaffie explained.

The announcement of the prize-winning work was made by guest judge, Charlotte Day (Director, Monash University Museum of Art) at the opening of the exhibition on Friday 29 August, 6.00–8.00pm. Ms Day was joined in judging this year’s Prize by Geelong Gallery’s Director, Geoffrey Edwards, and Curator, Lisa Sullivan.

Geoffrey Edwards said, ‘Possibly even more so than in previous years, the 2014 Geelong contemporary art prize confirms the astonishing vitality and sophistication of current Australian painting within a wider stream of contemporary visual arts practice including the increasingly prominent screen-based and other new-media forms.’

‘Here in this exhibition we have both figuratively lavish and austere abstractions alike with aspects of the natural world featuring as strongly as social or political narrative,’ Mr Edwards explained.

Guest judge, Charlotte Day said Preserve this fruit, ‘reflects Rob McHaffie’s distinctive approach to painting involving processes of modeling and collaging. Although modest in scale, his paintings are sharply perceptive reflections on the paradoxes of contemporary life. As well as nodding to traditional Thai folk painting, this work can be appreciated as an allegory of Western and colonial attitudes to the East.’

‘In addition to the skillful ‘collaging’ of shapes, patterns and references, what most impressed us about this painting is its slow reveal. While seducing the viewer with its lush crimson background and bright, intricate designs in the first instance, it does not give itself away to the casual glance. It’s more like a puzzle that requires some thoughtful working out,’ Ms Day explained.

‘As well as creating dialogue with other contemporary and historical paintings in Geelong’s impressive collection, we envisage that it may also have resonance with artworks in other media, particularly the ceramic collection,’ Ms Day advised.

About Rob McHaffie

Born in Melbourne in 1978, Rob McHaffie completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drawing), Victorian College of the Arts in 2002. Additional to his recent Malaysian residency, he has been awarded the prestigious Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris (2007) and an artist’s studio at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2005). He has also been the recipient of the Art & Australia/Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award (2012); Linden Postcard Award (2003); and VCA Contemporary Drawing Prize (2002).

He has exhibited widely in Australia and overseas in both solo and group exhibitions including the 2014 Basil Sellers Art Prize, Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne; Volume One: MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2012–14); Model Pictures: James Lynch, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie, Moya McKenna, Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne (2011), Art for Nature, Rimbun Dahan Gallery, Selangor, Malaysia (2011) and Primavera 06—Exhibition of Young Australian Artists, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2006).

McHaffie is represented in the collections of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne; and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

Rob McHaffie lives and works in Melbourne. He is represented by Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney, and Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Geelong Gallery wishes to thank the Dimmick Charitable Trust for generously sponsoring this signature event, which assists with the development of the Gallery’s collection while fostering Australian artists and contemporary painting practice in general.

Some 500 entries were received from around the country with 42 works by 45 artists selected to showcase the best of contemporary Australian painting practice. The 2014 Geelong contemporary art prize will be on display at Geelong Gallery until Sunday 23 November.


Rob McHaffie wins Geelong contemporary art prize
Rob McHaffie with his prize winning work at the Geelong contemporary art prize opening. (Image: Artin’ Geelong.)
Geoffrey Edwards Geelong contemporary art prize
The inimitable Geelong Gallery Director Geoffrey Edwards delivers a speech at the opening. (Image: Artin’ Geelong.)

And here are just a few more images of paintings in the exhibition. There is much more to see so I do hope you can get to the Geelong Gallery and enjoy this exhibition.

10_Emily Ferretti
Emily Ferretti
Together 2014
oil on linen
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne
20_Joanna LambJoanna Lamb
Airport lounge 2014
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and sullivan+strumpf, Sydney
30_Stieg PerssonStieg Persson
Cat and mouse 2013
oil on linen
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne & Sydney
33_Victoria ReicheltVictoria Reichelt
Flood 2014
oil on linen
Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects, Melbourne
2014 Geelong contemporary art prize
30 August – 23 November 2014
Geelong Gallery
53 Little Malop St, Geelong Victoria 3220
Ph:  + 61 3 5229 3645

One thought on “2014 Geelong contemporary art prize winner

  1. Hi Deidre,

    I just want to let you know that I was awarded the Rookwood Sculpture prize – would you be interested in mentioning that – perhaps as end of year achievement line up for Geelong/regional artists


    Laine Hogarty

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