Photographic artist Justine Varga has taken out the 2019 Dobell Drawing Prize, an acquisitive award worth $30,000. Presented by the National Art School in association with the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation, the biennial prize celebrates the significance of drawing within contemporary art practice. Varga’s winning artwork, Photogenic Drawing, challenges the traditional distinctions between photography and drawing, positing that photography is “drawing with light”. The work will form the centrepiece of an exhibition at the National Art School Gallery in Sydney, featuring the finalists of this year’s prize.

Justine Varga with her Photogenic Drawing. Photo © Peter Morgan

“Drawing is a fundamental part of many visual art practices,” said Ben Quilty, the judge for this year’s Prize. “The winner of the Dobell Drawing Prize #21 uses drawing in the most meaningful and sophisticated way. Her work is a distillation of so many components of our collective lives. Drawing plays a pivotal role in this artist’s exploration of us all. The winning work is a powerful, playful and sophisticated 21st-century drawing and a deserved winner.”

Varga’s work was created by drawing on and daubing a negative with ink and pigment during its long exposure. The artist considers it an example of a drawing practice that is both physical and chemical, painterly and photographic.

Justine Varga, Photogenic Drawing 2018, chromogenic photograph, 151.5 x 120 cm, 154.5 x 123 9 cm (framed). Courtesy the artist, Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Tony Albert’s  Old Sins Cast Long Shadows has meanwhile been Highly Commended. Created with ink on archival paper, the multi-panel work explores the harmful ways in which First Nations peoples have been represented throughout history.

“Highly commended goes to an artist who is relentlessly and skilfully re-writing dialogues about Australian histories,” said Quilty. “Drawing underpins [Albert’s] practice. Old Sins Cast Long Shadows uses the most simple drawing techniques to tell a formidably sophisticated story.”

Tony Albert, Old Sins Cast Long Shadows 2018 ink on archival paper, 76 x 57.5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

“The Dobell Drawing Prize has always inspired the question, ‘What is a drawing?’ and this year’s Prize offers an exciting range of artists’ responses: from ambitious, large-scale works using complex materials to intimate and agile drawings,” said Director of the National Art School, Steven Alderton.

“We see works of exceptional technical skill in charcoal and pencil, as well as drawings realised through photography, animation, textile, sculpture and performance. It is perhaps this breadth of possibility that defines contemporary drawing and gives the Dobell Drawing Prize its enduring appeal.”


The 2019 Dobell Drawing Prize exhibition is at the National Art School Gallery, Sydney until May 25