Sydney Morning Herald Column

The Blake Prize

Published September 20, 2010
2010 winner-Leonard Brown, If you put your ear close, you'll hear it breathing, 150x122cm, oil on belgian linen

If all religion were as vague and non-descript as the works in the Blake Prize, the world would be a much more peaceful place. Nobody could ever be passionate, let alone fanatical, about the lame and timid entries in Australia’s leading competition for religious art. Or should that be ‘spiritual’ art?
This is the 59th time the Blake Prize has been awarded and it seems more irrelevant than ever. When the prize was first conceived in 1951, it was seen as a way of focusing public attention on religion at a time of growing secularisation. If we look at the world today organised religion is thriving, although it doesn’t seem to have generated much good will among the faithful.
The organisers of the Blake Prize have responded to this increasingly fraught environment by turning the competition into a warm, fuzzy bath in which all faiths, all creeds and cults are invited to take a dip. The result is a show in which it would take the wisdom of Solomon to find any religious content whatsoever in the majority of entries. There are landscapes, abstracts, small furry animals… you name it. Naturally, all this is considered deeply “spiritual”, but for some people a visit to the TAB can be a deeply spiritual experience.
In this field, Leonard Brown’s abstract painting, If you put your ear close, you’ll hear it breathing, is a worthy winner.  It is completely gnomic in appearance and title – a simple pattern that spreads out slightly as one’s eye descends from top to bottom, with a colour scheme that resembles calamine lotion. The judges found it to be “a work with an enormous spiritual presence”, but I imagine that most viewers will find it incomprehensible. It is, without doubt, a work that promotes contemplation, not to mention Holy Mystery.
Blake Prize Exhibition, National Art School, September 3-Octber 2, 2010
Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, September 20, 2010