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Braidwood-based artist Kate Stevens has won the inaugural Evelyn Chapman Art Award for her work Gaza, 2018, a painting based on imagery found in online news footage. Announced at S.H. Ervin Gallery on 25 October, Stevens was awarded $50,000 to put towards furthering her arts education and painting practice.

Born in 1888, Evelyn Chapman is recognised as the first female Australian painter who spent time documenting war zones. Painting images of crumbling buildings and battlefields throughout France, Germany and Belgium, Chapman had work exhibited at the Salon in France, then the epitome of success and recognition in the art world. Despite having to give up her painting career when she married, Chapman remained a passionate supporter of the arts and education and The Evelyn Chapman Art Award, open to young Australian painters, is a valuable reflection of this.

While Stevens’s earlier work is heavily based in portraiture, her winning work Gaza forms part of an ongoing series recently exhibited in Drones over Aleppo at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

In the process of capturing still images from YouTube and recreating them as painted landscapes, Stevens has been working to unpack the divide between the imagery we visually consume and how and where we view it.

“For many of the paintings in this series, including Gaza, I have used a blurring technique which puts a ‘screen’ between the viewer and image, and also creates a beauty in the painted surface that is so at odds with the subject matter,” she explains. “Even the initial act of pausing the drone footage or saving a mobile phone news image to then slowly rebuild it in paint, starts to express this divide.”

Earlier this year, Stevens had a pivotal moment when she viewed Arthur Streeton’s watercolour paintings of Péronne in The Art of War at the National Gallery of Australia. “Streeton’s watercolours seemed so relevant to the drone footage of ruins in Aleppo I was working with in the studio,” she reveals. “The Australian War Memorial has many of Streeton’s watercolours and sketchbooks from that time.”

Stevens says the award will allow her to continue to develop her paintings by spending time at the Australian War Memorial with their Streeton collection and other archives.

“This will be my starting point,” she says, “along with research into our early female war artists from World War II, of which Evelyn Chapman was an early unofficial pioneer, painting ruins on the Western Front in the aftermath of World War I.”

The Evelyn Chapman Art Award was established as part of a bequest left by her daughter, Pamela Thalben-Ball. Judges of the inaugural award were artists Ann Cape and Yvonne Langshaw, and artist Greg Hansell who is also head of the Royal Art Society of NSW Art School. Stevens was chosen from a pool of shortlisted finalists which included Fabrizio Biviano, Bridget Dolan, Frances Feasy, Amanda Marburg, Lilli Stromland and Liz Stute.

The winning work, Gaza, is currently on display at S.H. Ervin Gallery in Sydney. Additional work by Stevens can also be seen in her solo exhibition, Scenes from an afternoon, currently on at Canberra’s Nancy Sever Gallery.

Evelyn Chapman Art Award Winner
Kate Stevens
S.H. Ervin Gallery
25 Oct – 2 December

Scenes from an afternoon
Kate Stevens
Nancy Sever Gallery
24 October – 17 November

Briony Downes