Portrait prize finalist frames strength

June 15, 2024 BY

Purpose: Ben Howe created his portrait of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Sami Shah specifically to enter the Archibald Prize. Photo: SUPPLIED

A LOCAL artist’s attempt at capturing the subtleties behind human resilience is now on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Ben Howe’s portrait of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Sami Shah is being exhibited at the venue until 8 September as a finalist entry in this year’s Archibald Prize.

The piece portrays partners Moore-Gilbert and Shah, an academic in Middle Eastern political science and author, and a comedian, journalist, and Pakistani migrant respectively.

Howe said he was drawn to their displays of strength in the face of hardship.

“They both have interesting stories,” he said. “I wanted to capture that but also something more.

“I wanted to capture them as they are and not put any obvious expressions of joy or sadness. I wanted to concentrate on the micro-expressions.

“I’d have a very-slowed down video recording in the background which I’d visit and pause now and then. The painting would change day-to-day…

“Playing with duration is very important and you can come closer to the truth of a person playing with those adjustments.

“I don’t usually enter things like this because it costs a lot to courier it there and back, so it’s fantastic for this piece to be accepted.”

Having been kidnapped for four days in Morrocco when he was 20 years old, Howe was moved by Moore-Gilbert’s two-year experience as an Iranian prisoner on charges of espionage.

“The way Kylie had come out of her experience floored me and that she was using it as a platform to do important things,” Howe said.

“A few years later, a friend introduced me to Sami who also had a very interesting story and it turns out they were partners, so I thought, I’ve got to paint them both.”

The piece was created out of a sitting session which took about four hours.

“A lot of that time was spent observing them, how they’d make coffee or how they’d adjust their hands,” Howe said. “A lot of it was observations.

“It’s almost hyper-realism. You try to bring out more information than a still photo could. I put them in an abstracted field outside of where I did the sitting so there were no links to any setting.”

Howe has been an exhibiting artist for more than 20 years and was the recipient of last year’s Ballarat Arts Foundation Eureka Art Award.