Works by Queensland College of Art (QCA) staff, students and alumni are in the running for two of Australia’s most prestigious portrait prizes.

Fine art lecturer Dr Julie Fragar and alumni Monica Rohan and Karen Black are among the 55 finalists vying for the $100,000 Archibald Prize, which is awarded each year to the best portrait of a person ‘distinguished in art, letters, science or politics’ by an Australian artist.

More than a dozen staff, students and alumni have also made it to the finals of the Brisbane Portrait Prize, now in its second year.

Archibald Prize finalist Dr Julie Fragar

Dr Fragar’s imposing two metre Archibald Prize entry features Aboriginal activist and artist Richard Bell.

This marks the third time that the acclaimed artist has made it to the finals of the Archibald Prize.

“The Archibald Prize is a whole other level of exposure. It’s a little bit like the Melbourne Cup – people place bets each year on who is going to win,” she said.

“It does create great excitement, and I believe it plays a vital role in connecting Australia with the visual arts. It’s great to participate in a national conversation about art.”

Dr Fragar said she was honoured to paint her friend and fellow artist, Richard Bell – the eighth time he has appeared in a finalist portrait. The painting was based on a series of photographs by QCA alumnus Louis Lim.

“Richard is well known as a fearless artist with a sharp mind and a big personality. Sometimes, though, when talking about personal experiences, he shows a quieter side,’ she said.

“He occasionally tells the story of growing up in south-west Queensland where the home he lived in was demolished by local authorities. I wanted to refer to something of that loss and to show two sides of Richard — the fearless and the feeling.”

Archibald Prize finalist Monica Rohan

Rising star Monica Rohan, who graduated from the QCA in 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Art (Hons), made it to the finals for the second time with a portrait of fellow artist Lucy Culliton.

Lucy, by Monica Rohan

“It’s really exciting – there is so much anticipation and effort that goes into an entry, so to make the finals is so rewarding,” she said.

“I think the Archibald is among the most accessible art events in Australia – everyone can enjoy it.”

Monica travelled down to her sitter’s rural NSW property to make preliminary sketches for the portrait and get to know her subject.

“Lucy was so generous and actually became a friend in the process,” Monica said.

Brisbane Portrait Prize finalist Ashlee Becks

Fine Art Honours student Ashlee Becks is also among the 70 finalists at this year’s Brisbane Portrait Prize.

Her striking self-portrait, To Have and To Hold, is part of a series of works she has produced as part of her studies at QCA.

“I’m in my Honours year now and am doing a research project focused around how painting can help cope with trauma,”she said.

To Have and To Hold, by Ashlee Becks

“My work for the Brisbane Portrait Prize is a very personal piece and is based on my own experience of grief and trauma.

“I love the idea of portraiture as a way of exploring and understanding yourself.”

Ashlee said the Brisbane Portrait Prize provided an invaluable opportunity for emerging artists to gain exposure for their work.

“Particularly during COVID, there haven’t been many opportunities to see new work. It’ll be interesting to see what people have been working on,” she said.

“It’s exciting to make the finals alongside so many other artists from QCA.

“My dream is to be in the finals of the Archibald Prize one day, so this is the next step.”

Professor Elisabeth Findlay

Queensland College of Art Director Professor Elisabeth Findlay said the success of QCA in Australia’s premier portrait prizes reflected the high calibre of staff and alumni engaged in contemporary portraiture.

“Making it to the finals of the Archibald Prize is an impressive achievement and it’s wonderful that QCA artists are so prominently featured in this highly competitive exhibition,” she said.

“QCA is also well represented amongst the finalists of the Brisbane Portrait Prize and it is exciting to see staff and alumni pushing the boundaries of portraiture.”

The Archibald Prize will be announced on Friday 25 September and the Brisbane Portrait Prize will be awarded on 6 October.

Archibald Prize finalists

Dr Julie Fragar
Monica Rohan
Karen Black

Brisbane Portrait Prize finalists

Emeritus Professor Pat Hoffie
Dr Julie Fragar
Dr Bill Platz
Tish Lineaan
Sarah Hickey
Deborah Eddy
Amanda Penrose Hart
Ashlee Becks
Adrian Charles Smith
Georges Soler
Janine Heany
Peter Jacobsen
Tyza Stewart
Adam Southgate