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Western Australian artist Jana Vodesil-Baruffi has won the $50,000 2017 Black Swan Prize for Portraiture with her aptly titled work, Black Swan. The Black Swan Prize is now in its 11th year.

Vodesil-Baruffi won the portraiture prize with her painting of a young woman with an eating disorder. Depicting the woman as two separate figures, the work contrasts two versions of the same person and shifts between both vulnerability and defiance. As the artist says of the portrait, “Her sad but strong gaze pierces my heart. My intention was to help her to see the grim reality of her condition, but my artistic eye was selfishly seeing the hidden beauty and magical symmetry in her structure.”

Vodesil-Baruffi describes Black Swan as one of the most difficult pieces she has ever created.

“The need to try to help [my subject] to overcome her eating disorder was urgent and forever present,” she says. “The failure was evident and in front of my eyes every second of my working time and long after, making me feel powerless and guilty.”

The over 300 submissions and 40 finalists in this year’s prize were judged by artist Wendy Sharpe; Dr Sarah Engledow, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery; and Melissa Harpley, curator of historical and modern art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

The judges highly commended Tasmanian artist Effie Pryer for her portrait depicting a young co-worker and her pet macaws. New South Wales artist Natasha Walsh was also commended for her self-portrait In the studio.

For the second year running, finalists were asked to vote for their favourite work. Known as the Toni Fini Foundation Artist Prize, this year’s $10,000 artist’s choice award went to Marie Mansfield for her portrait Mertim.

Black Swan Prize for Portraiture
Art Gallery of Western Australia
1 – 27 November 2017

Tiarney Miekus