Griffin artist wins prestigious art prize

Published 12:00pm 20 May 2022

Griffin artist wins prestigious art prize
Words by Jodie Powell

A stunning landscape by Griffin artist Todd Whisson has won the 2022 Lethbridge Landscape Prize.

Whisson’s work, The Road to Kilcoy, was judged number one from more than 850 entries in this year’s $20,000 award.

After more than 30 years of Impressionism, Whisson has made the transition to Contemporary art in a journey he describes as one of self-discovery.

Whisson is humbled and gratified by the recognition and says the prizemoney will allow him to spend more time refining his craft.

“It’s great confirmation that I am on the right path as a painter,” he says.

“There can be a lot of time and years invested in trying to find who you are and what you want to say.

“It’s taken about seven years to really confirm – I have had splashes on and off with it.

“I would just visit it again with research, looking at my temperament and understanding myself and my journey.”

Building on success

Griffin artist wins prestigious art prize
Image: The Road to Kilcoy, by Todd Whisson

A Moreton Bay Regional Arts Development Fund grant resulted in the exhibition Past and Present: The Heritage of Mt Mee and Bellthorpe at The Hub Gallery at Caboolture in 2020 and last year saw Whisson named as a finalist in the Clayton Utz Art Award.

Whisson says the transition from Impressionism to Contemporary art has presented challenges and led to a diploma and a degree from the Queensland College of Art – something he would never have contemplated when he began his career.

Now, he’d give his younger self a piece of sage advice: “Do a degree”.

“I did a talk on my painting and life at the Brisbane Club and a fella asked ‘Todd, how important is a degree’ and that was 20 years ago.

“I was an Impressionist taught by other artists,” he laughs.

Whisson began exploring other techniques out of a desire to get more out of painting.

Finding a voice

“Impressionism can only take you so far.

“I was interested in Abstract, but I had no idea how I could look at the same hillside as another artist and mine turns out Impressionist and his turns out Abstract.

“It took six or seven years to find my voice, to have something to say that’s important to me.

“It’s really just a lot of experimenting until you feel that really strong conviction that it’s you and I feel that there’s room to improve because it’s me.

“Because I painted as an Impressionist all those years, I have kept a percentage of that, but with a Contemporary feel.”

Important support

Griffin artist wins prestigious art prize

Whisson’s wife, Julianne, says Brett Lethbridge brings a unique quality to his awards, with his background in creating lending a sense of empathy.

“Brett really set that up to change artists’ lives,” she says.

“He’s immersed personally with the artist, he’s directly connected with the struggle.

“When Todd won, you could almost see him breathe out for Todd.”

Whisson agrees, but says having Julianne dedicated to promoting his work and planning behind the scenes also makes a difference when he’s striving to find the right touch on a new piece.

“It’s the judgement and that’s what everyone struggles with, so having amazing support is extraordinary - someone who’s a team player and has the discussions for you.

“Some people have called artists a brotherhood because there’s a certain amount of pain.

“I’ve wanted to throw it in 100 times, but there’s something that just makes me want to do it again.

“After 10 or 15 minutes and a cup of tea you get over the disappointment (of not having a piece express what you’re aiming for).

“Over the years you just learn how to play with this (he points to his head) and say ‘I am just going to enjoy this painting’.”

Conveying emotion

Originally a picture framer, Whisson’s been painting full time for about 20 years.

“It was a juggle while I was picture framing full time and painting on the side.

“It took time to get better and start selling a few and teaching a bit before I made the transition.”

Whisson believes art should reflect the heart of the creator.

“The painting is more of a portrait of the painter than the subject,” he says.

“To look at a painting you should be able to read the personality of the person who painted it.”

Prestigious prize

The Lethbridge Landscape Prize was established after the demise of the prestigious Tattersalls Landscape Prize, whose entrants had included such luminaries as John Perceval, Margaret Olley, Charles Blackman and Judy Cassab.

“I thought Tattersalls had a great legacy because the interpretation of the landscape genre is fundamental to how we see the place we live in,” Lethbridge says.

“When you see the place you live in every day reinterpreted through an artist’s eyes, it resonates on a deep level.

“In other genres there’s a universality, but with landscape it’s a place you live and you can have mixed reactions – you can love it but it can also feel unsettling, you can feel disturbed.”

The first Lethbridge Landscape Prize was won by Karl De Waal, who returned this year on the judging panel, which also included Carolyn McKenzie-Craig and Ralph Wilson.

“We launched last year and in terms of the number of entries, the quality of entries and the number of people attending the show, it’s just been out of this world,” Lethbridge says.

The prize invites artists to submit their landscape works in a variety of media, from sculpture and video to contemporary art.

“We want a broad spectrum,” he says.

“We loved Todd’s painting – it was classic in many ways, with nods to the Heidelberg School.

“It just felt vigorous, energetic, it had moments of balance but matched the time we’re living in.”

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