Hadley’s Orient Hotel is home to the country’s richest landscape art prize, and every year the historic hotel, in Hobart’s CBD, fills with art-minded patrons eager to find out who will be taking home the $100,000 award.
This year’s winner, announced on Friday morning at the almost 200-year-old hotel, is senior Yankunytjatjara artist Vicki Yatjiki Cullinan from Indulkana Community, on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjar lands, in South Australia.
“It’s my country, a place where my family and I grew up,” Cullinan tells Broadsheet of her winning painting Ngayuku Ngura (My Country), a mesmerising canvas of vibrant reds. “I grew up in that landscape, travelling through the communities. There are waterholes, sandhills and creeks. After it rains the flowers come out – they are pink and purple. This painting shows the landscape after the rainy season.”
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Cullinan has been painting, printmaking and drawing for 20 years. She’s a leader in her community who now mentors a new generation of artists.
Her painting was selected from 30 finalists by a panel of three judges, including Tasmanian artist Milan Milojevic, curator and associate professor at the University of Queensland Dr Fiona Foley, and Archibald and Sulman Prize winner Wendy Sharpe AM, one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary painters.
“Every time you look at it, it gives you more,” Sharpe tells Broadsheet of Cullinan’s work. “If you walk out of the room and then back in again it gives you a surprise every time.”
This year the prize received 500 entries, with representation from every state. Of the 30 finalists, 70 per cent are female and 50 per cent are Indigenous.
The prize, which is not exclusively for paintings, is awarded for the best depiction of the Australian landscape in a two-dimensional form. Previous winners include Hobart’s David Stephenson, Tuppy Ngintja Goodwin from the Mimili Maku Arts group in central Australia, and the late Kunmanara (Peter) Mungkuri, who won the inaugural prize in 2017. As the prize is acquisitive, these paintings hang in the hotel’s lobby and public spaces, adding to the hotel’s growing art collection.
The prize money, and the cost of running the exhibition, is gifted by businessman and Hadley’s co-owner Don Neil, whose history with the hotel goes back over half a century.
“I grew up in rural Victoria and first came to Hadley’s to sell shoes as a 20-year-old,” Neil tells Broadsheet. “Ever since that time I’ve thought of Hadley’s as a very special place.”
In 1996 Neil redeveloped Hobart’s Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel. He says that the “MONA effect” (the impact David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art had on visitation to and business in the city) boosted the profits of many of Hobart’s hotels, making it possible for him to acquire Hadley’s when it came on the market. In 2016, he launched the first Hadley’s Art Prize.
“I got an E for art at school,” Neil says. “While I’ve never been any good at it, I enjoy art and Tasmania is really now an island of art. Art-loving tourists have been flocking to Tasmania since MONA [opened] and there are so many artists living in the state. I wanted the prize to contribute to the growing art scene in Tasmania and be a legacy for our family.
“Hadley’s was filled with art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the landlords was a landscape painter who won an art prize, so a prize seemed like a fitting way to bring art back to Hadley’s.”
The Hadley’s Art Prize exhibition runs from July 22 to August 20. Entry to the exhibition is free, and artworks are for sale. A public events program, including talks, will run alongside the exhibition.