Coffs Harbour artist wins People’s Choice in national portrait prize

Seabastion Toast at the Portia Geach prize exhibition with her painting.

COFFS Harbour artist Seabastion Toast has won the 2023 Portia Geach People’s Choice award with a portrait of fellow artist Karlee Rawkins called ‘How the light gets in’.

This annual award is given by Dr Heather Macorison and Hilary Macorison, in memory of their parents Harry and Winifred Macorison, who recognised the importance of the People’s Choice in making people slow down and develop a critical eye.

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The Portia Geach competition, held by Sydney’s S.H. Ervin Gallery in The Rocks, is open to Australian female artists for the best portrait painted from life of a man or woman distinguished in art, letters or the sciences.

Seabastion told News Of The Area, “Being a part of the Portia Geach award for two year’s running means a lot to me…the standard is incredibly high and the competition fierce and inspiring.

“Just to be hung at the iconic S.H. Ervin Gallery, right next to the Opera House in Sydney, is an honour.”

She said to be chosen by the public for the People’s Choice award “completely blew me away”.

“Not being a Sydney local, such an accolade makes me think the work really managed to connect with the majority of people and as an artist, these connections are integral to my practice.

“It is heart-warming to know that not only have people taken the time to view my work but have also gone the extra mile to cast their votes in my favour.

“Beyond my personal gain, I believe that the existence of a People’s Choice award serves to engage a broader and more diverse audience, allowing for greater connection, critical thinking and conversation about the art, an education and exchange from which we all benefit.”

On her work, Seabastion said, “My decision to paint Karlee Rawkins was driven by a unique convergence of time and place.

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

“While life led us down different roads, fate has brought us back to the same community once more.

“In creating this portrait, I sought to capture the essence of Karlee’s world – a world illuminated by the winter light streaming through the windows of her home in the lush hinterlands of the mid-north coast.”

Karlee lives and works in Bellingen.

“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.

“Rawkins’ life is a harmonious juxtaposition of intelligence, thoughtfulness, and responsibilities of motherhood.

“Amid the chaos of family life, she radiates a meditative serenity, an unwavering devotion to her craft always at the forefront of her mind.

“Her life and art are inseparable, a testament to her enduring commitment.

“I have attempted to capture a small part of the rich tapestry of Karlee Rawkins’ life and career through this painting – a portrait of an inspiring friend and an extraordinary artist at a profoundly enriching point in her journey,” said Seabastion.

Seabastion believes the People’s Choice voting process requires people to stop and truly observe the paintings.

“For me, this looking and reflecting is an essential element of my process.

“I create art as a means of slowing down time, and I believe that in our fast-paced world, art becomes even more valuable as it invites us to pause, muse and connect with the essence of our humanity.

“As an artist, time is the most precious resource, and winning this prize buys me the invaluable gift of time to continue my creative journey.

“I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to reinvest in my artistic career, as it enables me to pursue my craft every day,” she said.


Seabastion Toast’s People’s Choice award winning portrait of Karlee Rawkins.

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