Darren McDonald wins the Brisbane Portrait Prize 2022

Williamstown artist, Darren McDonald has won this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize taking home the $50,000 Lord Mayor’s Prize for his artwork titled Like A Bridge.

A talented painter for more than 25 years, Mr McDonald said he was overwhelmed to take out first place, honoring his mother in his acceptance speech, whom his portrait is dedicated to.

The portrait is a tender portrayal of Mr McDonald’s mum, Violet, who lives in aged care in Burpengary, depicting a floating figure dressed in yellow and playing a banjo.

“Mum brought me up in an artist’s life. I remember when I got into art school she said, ‘I got a little gift for you.’ It was a drawing of me at two days old. She’s a beautiful woman,” Mr McDonald said.

“Roughly two years ago I took mum to Brisbane to live due to her poor health after an accident. It was a hard time on our family.

“Mum is a loving person with a love of music and the arts. I bought her a banjo to play. The title of my work came from the song Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water that mum and I love.”

This year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize Chief Judge Lisa Slade, who judged the works straight off the wall before name plaques went up, said the winner captured her interest at first sight.

“This artwork spoke to me immediately. There was a sense to which there was no looking back once I saw this work,” Dr Slade said.

“This is a work that was made in one sitting, it’s a one hit work in the sense that you can’t mess it up – you have to get it right from the get-go.

“The thing about great portraits is they have to be both timeless and of the time, and I believe this portrait was just that.

“The painting has a very heartfelt tale. It speaks to the moment in which the artist had to confront something difficult and support his mother going into care and in that very act, as a loving son, negotiate that emotional bridge.

“It’s a brave work and it might well be a brave choice but I would say to everyone that art should always court controversy.”

“Some may think this particular artwork looks easy but pulling something like this off is very sophisticated,” she said.

14-year-old Ting Jiang also took home this year’s Next Gen Prize, open to participants 18 years and under, with her self-portrait Tongue Tied.

Miss Jiang’s said her self-portrait displays the communication barriers of being an immigrant, with the title of her work being a metaphor of when someone is lost for words, highlighting the vulnerable state of immigrants in a completely new world. 

“Australia is a multicultural country with people of all different backgrounds. I was raised and grew up in a Chinese household even after migrating to Australia and as I enrolled in school, difficulties were found regarding communication,” Miss Jiang said.

“Although my placement in an English as a Second Language class benefitted me in my study of the English language, I never interacted with other peers simply because I didn’t know how to.”

Other category award winners include Bianca Beetson – Accenture Digital Award, Stephen Tiernan – Performing Arts and Music Award, Pat Hoffie – Sylvia Jones Prize for Women Artists, Liam Nunan – Packer’s Prize, Leonard Brown – Chief Judge’s Highly Commended artwork and Tara Bursic and Brianna Gittos – Emerging Artists Award.

Brisbane Portrait Prize Director Anna Reynolds said this year’s winning works reflect the times, speaking of the anxieties and preoccupations of our lives over the last few years.

“These works serve as a visual recording of the ups and downs, and the complexities of the world we live in,” she said.

“There’s a respect for elders, a commentary about our colonial past, a celebration of family, love and music. What more could we ask for in 2022?

“I’m proud of all the works here at the finalist exhibition, we have seen some serious intellectual artistic achievement.

“In this way, the BPP is clearly attracting some of the most experienced artists from Brisbane, and from across the country, but with a connection to Brisbane, proving this city is punching above its weight in artistic terms. 

“I would urge visitors to look carefully at the works, think about the stories of the artist and the sitters and vote their favourite in the Courier Mail’s People’s Choice Award,” Ms Reynolds said.