Coffs Harbour artist wins major portrait prize

Seabastion Toast, winner of the Percival Portrait Painting Prize 2024 with ‘How the Light Gets In’, a portrait of Karlee Rawkins, and her cheque for $40,000.

COFFS Harbour artist Seabastion Toast has won the 2024 Percival Portrait Painting Prize with a painting of artist Karlee Rawkins.

Having launched in 2007, The Percivals competition showcases the innovative work being produced by Australian artists, including many emerging artists.

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Winning first prize in this prestigious national competition comes with a cheque for $40,000.

Sebastian’s portrait, ‘How the Light Gets In’, was based on contemporary Australian painter Karlee Rawkins.

“My decision to paint the artist Karlee Rawkins was driven by a unique convergence of time and place,” Seabastion told News Of The Area.

“Over two decades ago, we embarked on our undergraduate journey together, forging the foundations of our artistic paths.”

While life led the artists down different roads, fate brought them back to the same community, this time on the Mid North Coast.

“In creating this portrait, I sought to capture the essence of Karlee’s world – a world illuminated by the gentle, dappled light streaming through the windows of her home in the lush hinterlands of the Mid North Coast.

“This play of light and nature serves as a symbolic representation of her work, which delves into the profound connections between wildlife, nature, and the human psyche.”

In Seabastion’s portrait, Karlee’s son’s silhouette is seen in the distant doorway, a powerful symbol of her transformation from a solitary studio artist during her student years to a loving mother, activist and artist today.

“Karlee’s life is a harmonious juxtaposition of intelligence, thoughtfulness, and the responsibilities of motherhood,” Seabastion said.

“Her teenage son Raji, who features in the doorway behind her, has Down syndrome.

“So, the painting is not just about the perspective of Karlee’s growth as an artist but how being a mother of a child with a disability has enriched her life and her art practice.

“She speaks of how collaborating with her son has expanded her view of the world and of art, seeing the world through a disabled perspective is something painting and art encourages in all of us.”

Incorporating dotted patterns on the top of the portrait is a nod to the artists’ shared love for intricate design.

Seabastion’s hope is that viewers will glimpse the rich tapestry of Karlee Rawkins’ life and career through this painting – a portrait of a cherished friend and an extraordinary artist at a profoundly enriching point in her journey.

Following her win, Seabastion’s work was acquired by Townsville City Council, who ran the competition, to be preserved as part of their permanent collection.

“It’s incredible to think that when we are both old ladies, we will be able to visit this portrait and reminisce on our art careers,” said Seabastion who received the phone call telling her she had won on Friday afternoon, 21 June.

“The next few hours were a blur trying to book flights to Townsville for the opening,” she said.

“The airline managed to lose my bags, so I had to buy an op shop frock for the opening night.”

The welcome from Townsville’s art community more than compensated.

The city’s Main Street was pedestrianised for the awards night with a live band and artists and enthusiasts from all across Australia pouring out of the gallery.

“I was swept up giving speeches and interviews and tours of the local arts scene,” she said.

“The next morning, I was treated to hearing the judges talk about my work with such depth and answer questions from the sizeable audience.

“I was astounded and flattered that so many people would take an interest in a portrait prize, and take the time to really look and discuss the intricacies of my work.”

She is still pinching herself that her work should attract such a scholarly dissection.

“As an artist, communication is a big part of why we spend so many years – often in solitude – honing our craft.

“To have such a positive and intelligent response makes all that work and isolation worthwhile,” she said.

The $40,000 will buy her time.

“More time to paint and time to work on my new body of work focusing on the body as landscape.

“It buys me the freedom to create works outside of the commercial.

“I love painting people and figures, and this extra time will allow me to work more from life so I can concentrate on the light.

“If there are any Coffs residents who would like to volunteer to be part of this new series of works, please get in touch through my website

“I’m not looking for professional models (nor nudity) as I am interested in everyday people,” she said.

Sebastion thanked Townsville City Council for sponsoring this award and City of Townsville’s Perc Tucker Regional Gallery for facilitating the show.

Competition works will be exhibited at the gallery from 22 June until 1 September.


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