Drawing with dualities and deep conceptual thinking

The Dobell Drawing Prize #23 finalist works on view at the NAS Gallery push the potential of drawing practices to reflect on the ‘collective mood’.

The Dobell Drawing Prize #23, presented by the National Art School (NAS) with the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation, shines a light on the most foundational art form and the artists who dare to stretch its traditional boundaries.  

This year’s edition of the Prize saw a record-breaking 1062 entries, with the judges selecting works by 64 finalists, exhibited in the NAS Gallery until 10 June. Together with the winning work by Brisbane artist Jane Grealy, these drawings explore conceptual experimentation and the complexities of modern living.

NAS Galleries Manager, Senior Curator and Dobell Drawing Prize judge, Katrina Cashman tells ArtsHub: ‘What caught our eye [in Grealy’s piece] was the idea of the dualities in the work and the fact that it was really conceptually driven. Jane’s work had that framework for referencing time, looking backwards and looking forwards at urban development, and the effects on our environment.’ 

Maria’s Garden, Scheme C reflects Grealy’s background as an architectural illustrator. The $30,000 acquisitive prize is her first major win and ‘very much an important milestone for her practice,’ adds Cashman. 

A running theme in the finalists’ exhibition draws upon the collective experiences of the past couple of years, where ‘a sensory engagement with the environment is quite evident,’ Cashman says. 

She continues: ‘In the Dobell Drawing Prize, these 64 artists from across Australia – who mostly don’t know each other – have brought to light this collective mood and shared their thought processes.’

More highlights in Dobell Drawing Prize #23

Apart from Grealy’s work, a particular finalist highlight for Cashman is The Waterfalls in the Moon Garden by North Sumatra-born, Sydney-based artist and NAS alumnus Jayanto Tan. 

Cashman says: ‘He made this incredible work, which really challenges the perception of what is a drawing and expanded drawing practice. It has a sculptural format with beautiful textile work made by sewing together used teabags that leave a stain to create the image. 

‘It sits really beautifully in the space of the Gallery and is quite mesmerising because of the nature of the line work. It takes drawing into another realm, which is important. It shows that drawing can interact with every other art form.’

The opening night welcomed over 1000 people and was held in conjunction with Hannah Quinlivan’s solo exhibition Conjunctures in NAS’s Drawing Gallery. 

Visitors can now vote for the $2500 Dobell Drawing Prize People’s Choice prize using QR codes in the exhibition. 

Looking to the history and the future of the prize, Cashman says: ‘We’re very aware that all things need to be challenged and stay relevant. By working with the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and its incredible legacy, NAS is really positioning drawing at the heart of our school and practice, as it always has. It gives artists an opportunity to consider what it means to work across all fields of expanded drawing. 

‘What the exhibition does is present a real barometer of contemporary drawing practice, and it provides an excellent overview of the type of work that’s happening in Australia. 

‘Visitors will see works that inspire them and works that feel familiar, but those that challenge them too, to come away feeling enriched and want to go and make art,’ concludes Cashman. 

The Dobell Drawing Prize #23 is on view at the NAS Gallery until 10 June 2023. 

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_