Born in Brisbane: Three decades of ‘the churchie’

Caroline Gasteen,  Plantin’ Seeds , 2018, oil on board, 38 x 30cm; image courtesy the artist

Caroline Gasteen, Plantin’ Seeds, 2018, oil on board, 38 x 30cm; image courtesy the artist

The Churchie National Emerging Art Prize has been regarded as a benchmark rite of passage for Australian artists and their audiences alike since its establishment in 1987. For those not familiar with ‘the churchie’ (granted the name could be perceived as confusing), it is derived from the Brisbane private school of the same name which was instrumental in founding the prize. Over the decades, ‘the churchie’ has come to define some of Australia’s most engaging and diverse emerging visual art practices, at the same time providing monetary and gallery support, and judge-based feedback in the process.

What makes ‘the churchie’ distinctive is its Queensland base, and the important role it has played in supporting Queensland practices and placing them in a larger national dialogue – and, likewise, building familiarity and context for interstate artists, sometimes visiting Brisbane for the first time through the exhibition. The channels of exchange orchestrated through such prizes are sometimes more important than the actual outcomes themselves.

The 2018 iteration of ‘the churchie’ is currently being exhibited at the QUT Art Museum in Brisbane, and includes the work of 35 finalists selected from some 1000 applicants by a panel of Queensland-based experts. In September Brisbane artist Caroline Gasteen was chosen by Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah as winner of the AU$15,000 prize for her suite of modernist paintings. Jimmy Nuttall received the Special Commendation Award for his dual-channel video Mutual Love and Support (2017), which follows a queer cast engaging with a conversation centring on community and intimacy, while Marikit Santiago and Nick Santoro each received a Commendation Prize. ‘The Churchie’ exhibition continues until 4 November.

Tess Maunder, Brisbane