Faces to the fore

A cheerful-looking man holding a chicken, a scowling Graham Henry, and Bob Parker's infamous orange jacket are greeting visitors to Nelson's public gallery.

The portraits are among more than 40 at the Suter Gallery, in a touring exhibition of works from the 2012 Adam Portraiture Awards.

The exhibition features a selection of works from the awards, including some by finalists from the Nelson region: Bill Burke, Philippa Dawson, Fiona Lees, Emma Panting, Catherine Russ, and Michele Surcouf.

It is the first time the Suter has hosted the touring show, and director Julie Catchpole said it was proving popular.

"There seems to be a strong public interest in portraiture. There are endless school groups coming in," she said.

Suter curator Anna-Marie White said the exhibition gave visitors an insight into the various approaches of contemporary portraiture.

The technically impressive works featured celebrities, archetypes, and everyday people.

"There is something about a face that enables people to connect and feel confident to spin their own narrative."

White said the Auckland artist behind last year's supreme award-winning painting, Stephen Martyn Welch - known as Marty, was a fascinating person.

Welch won last year's $15,000 prize with a self-portrait entitled 3 Nights, A Mirror & Loads of Coffee. He appeared in a television show called The Sitting, where he painted portraits while interviewing well-known New Zealanders.

White said she had seen every episode, and Welch was "a very perceptive person".

"He has a very good skill as a portraitist to extract stories from his subjects."

3 Nights, A Mirror & Loads of Coffee, which shows Welch holding up his hand to shield his eyes from a bright light, is done in oil on canvas.

Welch said the work showed himself "in a bad space", but "I wanted to show that I was going to get through that bad space".

White said all the Nelson artists who entered last year's Adam Portraiture Awards were selected as finalists, as well as the touring show, which was a significant achievement.

Burke's painting, Tina and Kev, is a pastel portrait of his long-time friend Kevin Satherley with a chicken under his arm.

"I wanted to enter the portrait of his chook, but he [Mr Satherley] insisted on being in the picture," he said.

Lees' painting, entitled Bob the Builder (Yes We Can), is of Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker in the distinctive orange jacket he wore in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes.

Dawson's work, Decisions of Youth, features a man smoking in a forest.

Panting's portrait, Ngaire on the Threshold (Ngaire Wotherspoon), shows a girl on the threshold of young adulthood.

"I have tried to capture that moment on the cusp of adolescence. Often my subjects are captured at significant moments in their lives," she said.

Surcouf, who entered The Swimmer (Nic John) into the awards, said she was influenced by classical portraits.

"The subject himself, while dressed for a recreational sporting activity, has very strong classical features," she said.

Russ said her work depicted conflict between a man and a woman, and was done in response to events surrounding the 2011 General Election.

"The painting's figures also represent the New Zealand public - one figure engaged in a heated exchange, and the other exuding frustrated acceptance," she said.

  • Adam Portraiture Awards - A Selection, Suter Gallery, until March 24. Stephen Martyn Welch, the 2012 Adam Portraiture Award supreme winner and star of The Sitting, will give a floor talk at 2pm on February 23. He will be joined by Nelson-based finalists Bill Burke, Philippa Dawson, Fiona Lees, Emma Panting, Catherine Russ, and Michele Surcouf. Entry to the floor talk is $5.