State's darkest hour wins Glover prize

Glover Art Prize winner Rodney Pople, with his painting Port Arthur. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS
Glover Art Prize winner Rodney Pople, with his painting Port Arthur. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

TASMANIA'S darkest hour _ the 1996 Port Arthur massacre where 35 people were shot dead by Martin Bryant _ is at the heart of a provocative painting which last night won the $35,000 acquisitive Glover Art Prize for Landscape.

Currently serving 35 life sentences without parole in Risdon Prison, Bryant, clutching an AK-47 assault rifle, stands as a haunting presence in Rodney Pople's oil on linen, entitled Port Arthur.

The Launceston-born artist, who now lives in Sydney, has a reputation for being an unflinching provocateur of taboo subjects.

It drew a unanimous vote of merit from the trio of judges, Doug Hall, long time advocate for contemporary art especially in Australia and Asia; Jan Senbergs, an internationally recognised artist from Melbourne, and Tasmanian artist Brigita Ozolins, who also lectures at the Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania.

``It certainly isn't a gratuitous painting, the depth of thought and experience is clearly evident,'' said Hall, of Pople's painting.

``It shouldn't be controversial, there was no forethought by any of us that people could misconstrue it as in any way glorifying Bryant.

``Bryant is a highly emotive figure recognised beyond Tasmania, but we didn't think deeply about the reception the painting might get when we were selecting the best picture in a competition.

``There is classical composition in this work that is almost Glover-esque, the tones nod to 19th century dark green and umbers (natural pigments).''

Flying in for the Glover official announcement last night at Evandale's Falls Park Pavilion, Pople was unapologetic about the subject matter of his painting.

He said he had not painted Bryant into his landscape to upset people.

``My painting is about the depth of beauty and tragedy at Port Arthur,'' said Pople, who stayed at Port Arthur for two days sketching and photographing the site as a foundation for this work.

``What Bryant did was a heinous horror, but it's reality.

``Port Arthur is a great international landscape is has world value, but without doubt it is a brutal place.

``We should be proud of it, despite the complexities of history and reality.

``I painted a Glover-scale painting to give the landscape intimacy, in many ways I think the landscape devours Bryant.

``He will never outmaster the significance of that landscape. Bryant is a microdot.''

John Glover Society chairman Andrew Heap said it was the committee's practice to ``stay out of the art and judging exercise''.

``We provide an art prize, which over its nine-year history has drawn more than 2000 entries,'' Mr Heap said.

``The Glover Prize keeps growing by itself _ controversy or not.''