Dr Hughes was one of 700 Australian artists to enter the awards this year, claiming top prize with Gestural Body Painting. The work has been acquired by the Sunshine Coast Council for its public collection.
“This has been a year of incredible highs and lows and something like this is really life-changing,” she said.
“As a professional artist it counts for a lot – it’s not just the financial aspect, but it’s a real profile-building moment.”
Dr Hughes said the work had taken her in a new direction.
“This was a joyous work for me. It’s playful, fun and free, and that’s not something I always get to do,” she said.
The artwork is part of a series, ‘Maybe I was painting the woman in me’, that features bold colours and intricate patterns.
The judge of this year’s competition, Tracy Cooper-Lavery, said Dr Hughes had reclaimed the traditionally male-dominated field of abstract expressionism with her work.
“This piece was painted in response to Willem de Kooning’s famed Woman series, but the thick, gestural brushstrokes of those original works are replaced with intricate pattern, executed in painstaking detail,” Ms Cooper-Lavery said.
“The result is a painting that reclaims the female form, capturing it with a new kind of energy and vibrancy.
“I can’t help but feel she was painting the woman in many of us. Hughes’ curves and colours are the joy of self-representation – something to celebrate indeed.”
Queensland College of Art Director Professor Elisabeth Findlay said the QCA had a host of renowned artists on faculty.
“We are delighted to see Natalya’s work selected for this national prize,” she said.
“The Sunshine Coast Art Prize provides an opportunity for artists to have their work exhibited alongside their peers from across the country and an opportunity for national exposure.
“The fact that our graduates and lecturers are consistently represented at this award reflects the calibre of teaching and learning at the QCA.”
Sunshine Coast Councilllor Rick Baberowski said the Art Prize was helping to put the region on the map as a major hub for the arts.
“The Art Prize gathers a genuinely remarkable selection of accomplished and emerging artists, and we are delighted to accept another great work of art into our increasingly impressive Sunshine Coast Art Collection,” he said.
The national contemporary acquisitive award is presented by the Sunshine Coast Council, and is open to any Australian artist working in a 2D medium.
Works by the 40 finalists will be exhibited at the Caloundra Regional Gallery until 6 December.