Lester Prize’s Saloon of Refuse

The Lester Prize (formerly Black Swan portrait prize) has struggled a little with its Salon des Refusés in recent years. Or if you can’t be bothered wrestling the keyboard for French words or accents, Saloon of Refuse. The original version in 1863 was to intended to set rejected “radical” works against the conservatism of the Paris Salon. But what is the purpose of showing a “salon” of non finalist Lester portrait entries now? It’s not saying that your work was so outré that it goes against the idea of portraiture itself. It’s just saying that you almost made it. But didn’t.

If you swapped the finalist and semi finalist gallery titles, you would be hard pressed to notice as a whole any difference in quality, approach or technique. The semifinalists are just good portraitists, who this year didn’t quite catch the judges’ eye. And spare a thought for the non salon recipients, stripped now of any fantasy that they might almost have made it. Now it’s brutally clear that they “didn’t even not get in“.

And is it even possible these days to produce a radical portrait? Is it possible to even imagine a portrait so out there in style or execution that it couldn’t possibly be shown, with AGWA and Lester board members at each others’ throats over hanging it? And wouldn’t it be just wonderful if that was possible? But if you submitted a video of yourself, naked, painting a portrait of Shane Warne with your own faeces – if your rendering was good enough, you might well think you were still in with a chance of making the finals. And you’d be right. Your biggest problem would be getting Shane to sign off on the permission.

I know there has been resistance from some artists to allow their work to appear in the Refusés section in recent years. Refusing to be refused you might say. Perhaps because it has no real meaning now. Let’s just see the finalists, and let the losers fantasise about how close they might have got.

Also in previous years, printed promotional posters have cropped some of the works to fit. let’s not do that anymore either.

Published by AHC McDonald

Comedian, artist, photographer and critic. From 2007 to 2017 ran the culture and satire site The Worst of Perth

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