I’ve just been to see The Blake Prize for Religious Art at the National Art School in Darlinghurst, and really enjoyed viewing many of the works on display. A highlight of the exhibition, as soon as you enter the door, is “We All See The Same Blue Sky” by Jeffrey Robert Wood. The sculpture/installation features a life-sized family of four covered in paper. They have televisions where their faces should be, and the paper that covers their body has writing on it. As you look closer, you realise the paper is pages from the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, and the Psalms.

Another favourite, both because of its physical beauty and its inspiration is “Whispered” by Louise Feneley. A beautiful oil painting on Belgian linen, the painting portrays a white cloth simply folded, but with light always coming through, giving it both physical beauty, thanks to the shadows, and spiritual depth.

Sticking more strictly to the notion of religion is “Preaching To Birds” by Arthur Apanski. Through strong vibrant colours, the painting portrays Adam and Even in a universal setting, and it’s not until you read the accompanying notes that you realise it’s them.

Blake Prize

In a very contemporary sense, a couple of the works in this year’s exhibition touched on issues of religion and sexuality, including “Sermon” by Chris O’Doherty (aka Mambo) and “In God’s Image” by Rod McRae. The latter features a group of gay men in various degrees of undress, whereas the former is the kind of work you’ve come to expect of O’Doherty.

But in 2006, the Blake Prize isn’t really about religious art, per se, it’s about “the interaction of ideas and spiritual thought in contemporary Australian art”, as the written program tells us. This means there are many paintings based around nature, including a wonderful large red piece, which unfortunately I forget the name of which portrays the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Likewise, this year’s winner, a piece called, “Untitled Landscape with figure” by Euan MacLeod portrays the area around Alice Springs.

More interesting for me than the MacLead work, which I thought looked like everything else he’d ever done, was a piece called “The Six Towers Of Dachau”, photographs, by Lachlan Warner. I’ve been to Dachau, I’ve walked around and I’ve thought deeply about the experience. What makes this work wonderful, however, was that the artist had obviously thought about what it must have been like to have been in the Nazi death camp, and to have considered the significance of the watch towers in the every day lives of those who were there.

So yes, a terrific exhibition and one I’d recommend.

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