Turning 30 is a major milestone, well worth celebrating. So Linden New Art is throwing an online party to mark three decades of their annual award exhibition, the Linden Postcard Show. Every year since 1990 artists from all over Australia have been invited to send small works that fit a strict size restriction (8 x 10 inches or 20.32 x 25.4cm including framing). But the rules have been thrown out the window for the Linden Postcard Show 30th Birthday Celebration which features 21 past winners showing whatever they want. Four of them, Abdul Abdullah, Penny Byrne, Robert Fenton, and Kenny Pittock, reflect on the impressive longevity of the prize and what winning meant to them.
Like many artists, Robert Fenton has entered the prize more than once; 2020 will be his 16th Linden Postcard Show. In fact, according to Linden New Art, Fenton has entered more times than any other artist and his dedication has delivered him three awards: the $5,000 first prize in 2015, the artist encouragement award in 2017, and best portrait in 2019.
“At the start it was about getting your work shown without judgment,” explains the painter, “having that platform for your work is important.” As long as they meet the strict size limitations, all works entered are hung in the Linden Postcard Show. This inclusivity is a key factor. As Fenton says. “I think the success and longevity have come down to the need for emerging and established artists to share their work.”
Getting his work seen was also what drew Kenny Pittock to the prize, and he sold his first artwork there – an important rite of passage for an artist – in 2008, the first time he entered.
“It was a photograph, and I think when you take out the cost I spent on printing and framing it, and the gallery commission, I probably actually lost money from selling it, but I didn’t care,” recalls Pittock. “In my head I was now officially a professional artist and I just loved the idea that someone liked my work enough to have it in their home.”
Pittock went on to win first prize in 2013, although opinion on his winning painting Slimeballs and misery guts was divided.
“Winning the prize was fantastic, financially of course, but even more so it really meant a lot that people had connected with my painting. I later learned that my winning work was bought by the artist Juan Ford, who I’m a big fan of, and so the fact that he liked my work was very meaningful for me,” Pittock explains. “I also remember that Martin Foley, the State Member for Albert Park, tweeted a photo of my painting with the caption “Goes to show that art really is subjective,’ which I thought was pretty funny.”
The Linden Postcard Show was also a significant rite of passage for Abdul Abdullah, who took out first prize in 2014. “This was the first major prize I had won and it was a wonderful honour,” he says. “The prize money went straight back into my practice and helped me build my platform. It also paid a lot of my rent and put a lot of meals on the table!”
As a Peth-based artist, Abdullah says the size restrictions of the prize were a drawcard. “I think a show like this has legs because of its accessibility. The strict size limitation takes an element of the pressure off artists when producing something specifically for a prize,” he points out. “And its history of winners shows such a range of approaches that just about everybody feels comfortable entering.”
Abdullah also says he was excited to enter because he knew that Penny Byrne, an artist he admired, had previously won a prize. Byrne says, that like Fenton and Pittock, she entered because she wanted more people to see her work.
In 2005 Byrne had just shown her first sculpture made from a repurposed china figurine, Murder on the Dance Floor. “I had a great response to my work,” she says, “But not many people saw the show.”
Not long after, Byrne recalls, “I was on the 86 tram one day, and saw a poster advertising the Linden Postcard Show. It said ‘Open entry art exhibition, thousands of people will see your work,’ so that’s why I entered.”
Byrne didn’t win first prize in 2005, but she won a postcard prize which meant that her works was reproduced as a postcard and sold through the gallery. And this, she says, was enough to kickstart her career as a professional artist. “On the strength of that first work I held my first solo show at Linden through their New Innovators programme in 2006, and I gained commercial gallery representation in the same year. I haven’t looked back since!”
Byrne won the major award in 2017, on the same day that the marriage equality plebiscite result was announced, a double thrill for the artist. “The Linden Postcard Show is an egalitarian island in the artworld; open to anyone with no judgement,” Byrne says. “It welcomes one and all and this makes it unique. It is a safe place to show your work, to try something new, to take a punt. Long may it last!”
Kenny Pittock is exhibiting a very small ceramic replica of a fairground ticket in the Linden Postcard Show 30th Birthday Celebration,but Abdul Abdullah, Penny Byrne and Robert Fenton have all taken the opportunity to show larger pieces: an embroidered portrait; a pandemic-themed ceramic wall plaque, and a painted replica of a famous Frederick McCubbin work wrapped in plastic, respectively.
The Linden Postcard Show 30th Birthday Celebration includes work by Abdul Abdullah, Penny Byrne, William Eicholtz, Sarah crowEST, Robert Fenton, Prudence Flint, Josh Foley, Anna Hoyle, Helen Johnson, Michael Kluge, Rob McHaffie, Scott Miles, Jennifer Mills, Grant Nimmo, Greg Penn, Kenny Pittock, Louise Rippert, Hedy Ritterman, Valerie Sparks, Richard Stringer and Steffie Wallace.
Both exhibitions will also be presented at Linden New Art when the gallery reopens to the public.