Today Basil Sellers AM announced the 5th and final winner of the prestigious $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne. Richard Lewer has won the award for his work titled The Theatre of Sports (2016).

Richard Lewer‘s The Theatre of Sports (2016) is a compendium of twelve paintings that form one work. It represents Lewer’s sustained passion for art and sport, and examines the role sport can play in relation to mental illness. His practice looks at extremes of behaviour, centering in this work on the very public moments of failure of well-known sporting figures.

Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Ms Kelly Gellatly, commended all of the shortlisted finalists for the depth of their engagement with the theme of sport and the quality of the work that they created, across media, around the theme.

“The judges were impressed by the artists’ willingness to use the theme of sport and the platform of the exhibition itself to push themselves. The contribution of each of the finalists shows a willingness to be ambitious and to take risks in their practice. This has resulted in a rich and diverse exhibition that reveals, among other things, a shared concern with the connection to community that sport provides, and an interest in the way in which sport both connects with, and is integral to, peoples’ lives; providing a sense of solace, meaning, belonging or release.” – Ms Kelly Gellatly

The Basil Sellers Art Prize is a biennial contemporary art prize and exhibition which focuses on the theme of ‘art and sport’ and has been held at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne since 2008.

The winning work, Richard Lewer’s The Theatre of Sports investigates the very public down side of the dedication and commitment of professional sportsmen and women: the moment of defeat. Within the work Lewer pictures recognisable sporting figures such as tennis player Nick Kyrgios, swimmer Ian Thorpe and athlete Sally Pearson captured in the immediate aftermath of loss – during moments of devastation, disbelief, frustration and distress. However, for Lewer, how this loss is handled – the mechanisms that sportspeople draw upon to deal with these situations – and the accompanying issues of anxiety and depression – are, in effect, more interesting than the loss itself. The work is both a commanding, painterly ode to a sense of vulnerability and to the emotional side of sport, while honouring the discipline of elite athletes and their ability to draw upon an inner strength that enables them to continue, and to strive for excellence, in the face of loss.

The other 2016 finalists are: Abdul Abdullah, Dana Harris, David Ray, Eamon O’Toole, Fiona McMonagle, Grant Hobson, Jane Brown, Kate Daw and Stewart Russell, Laith McGregor, Rew Hanks, Shaun Gladwell, Trent Parke and Narelle Autio, Vipoo Srivilasa and William Mackinnon.

Over 240 artists from all over Australia submitted entries for the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize, one of Australia’s richest and most prestigious art awards. An additional $5000 Peoples’ Choice award will be voted for by visitors to the exhibition.

This year’s judging panel included Basil Sellers AM; Kelly Gellatly, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art; Dr Chris McAuliffe, consultant for the Basil Sellers Group; Maurice O’Riordan, director of the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin; Christine Clark, Manager of Exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; and Chris Langford, member of the AFL Commission.

The finalists will exhibit at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne until 6 November 2016.

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The prize is supported by Basil Sellers AM, a businessman and philanthropist. Basil is a well-known collector of art and a sports enthusiast who spends his time between Australia and Europe.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize is a long-term project, involving 5 biennial awards from 2008 to 2016. This year marks the fifth and final prize, which aimed at changing Australians’ perception and enjoyment of art and sport.


2016 Basil Sellers Art Prize Exhibition

DATES: 19 July 2016 to 6 November 2016
VENUE: The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne
TIMES: Tuesday to Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 – 5pm
TICKETS: Free Exhibition
WEB: www.art-museum.unimelb.edu.au


Catalogue Essay: Richard Lewer

Richard Lewer’s The Theatre of Sports (2016) is a compendium of twelve paintings that form one work. It represents Lewer’s sustained passion for art and sport, and examines the role sport can play in relation to mental illness. His practice looks at extremes of behaviour, centering in this work on the very public moments of failure of well-known sporting figures.

Fascinated by the highly publicised story of swimmer Ian Thorpe’s struggle with depression, Lewer started to investigate elite athletes who suffer from extreme mental stress. He then began to research events in which those athletes had lost, come second or been injured. Having gathered hundreds of images from the web, television and magazines, Lewer selected twelve that document public scenes of the athletes’ despair, anger, frustration and dejection, rendering these in paint. Tennis player Nick Kyrgios throws his racket to the ground in frustration and rage; disbelief is written on the face of martial arts champion Ronda Rousey as she loses her title; Olympic champion Sally Pearson clutches her broken wrist in agony after crashing over a hurdle; Ian Thorpe is dejected in the pool; and a moment of despair is shared by an AFL football team. Lewer is interested in the person who comes second and what happens next to these athletes.

Years of hard training have gone into the twelve sporting moments Lewer depicts. Sport, like art, requires discipline; the ability to take risks and to keep going despite failure. Embedded in the surfaces of the paintings are the struggles, the risk-taking and the failures of the artist. Layer upon layer has been rubbed back, built up again and changed over the months that the works have taken to complete. Lewer’s Theatre of Sports documents the struggles of elite athletes. It captures the moment of loss, the agony and the disbelief. We watch the athletes struggle very publicly and are left wondering what will happen next… it is, perhaps, not through the triumphs but through the tough moments that we truly find resilience and a deeper understanding of ourselves

By Samantha Comte