Former Echuca artist Emma Beer describes her selection as a finalist in the prestigious Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize at the Bendigo Art Gallery as a kind of homecoming.
The 33-year-old was born in Echuca, and it was within the walls of the now 134-year-old Bendigo Art Gallery that she was inspired to follow the visual arts as career.
"When I was a kid, the Bendigo Art Gallery was the closest art gallery to where I was living, so in the school holidays, I would always make an effort to go and visit the collection," she said.
"And when I was in high school, I went there and did my work experience for a couple of weeks. It's kind of cool to be shortlisted as a finalist, because the collection and the prize were one of my first interactions with art and museums and the way in which those collections are built. It was something I looked up to and it's nice to arrive at this point.
"These things are like gold or dreams and I didn't think I would arrive here so soon."
And Bendigo Art Gallery obviously had a sophisticated work experience program. Young Emma didn't fetch the coffees during her time; she helped to hang an exhibition of photographer Tracey Moffatt.
"It was really awesome and I had quite a lot of hands-on experience. That was my first introduction to how an art gallery operated. When I left high school, I came to the ANU to study and when I left art school, I worked at CMAG and the NGA as an installer. So it was definitely the foundation for what was to come."
Bendigo Art Gallery's long-running Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize is held every two years, and attracts some of Australia's most accomplished artists.
This year, Emma is one of 34 finalists in the $50,000 acquisitive art prize, the shortlist derived from more than 350 entries. The winner will be announced on November 19.
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Her work, Peachtime, 2021, is a beautiful acrylic on canvas piece, part of her efforts towards staging a major exhibition of her work at the Drill Hall Gallery next year. She is investigating new ways of painting.
"I'm more or less trying to paint paintings in reverse," she said.
"Traditionally, you paint from dark to light and I'm inverting those processes so I'm using the background of the painting to generate the light. I'm just subverting traditional techniques and kind of flipping them on their head. And I'm also just experimenting with colour and different colour relationships and their impact on composition."
Emma has been the technical officer in the painting workshop at the ANU School of Art since 2008.
She and partner Kirsten Farrell have two children aged 13 and 16. Lockdown has been both a challenge and a chance to focus more on painting.
"It's pretty challenging, particularly supporting students who are learning to paint online. It's sort of one of the more difficult parts," she said.
"I personally am really enjoying lockdown because it gives me a bit more flexibility in terms of my painting hours. Because I work full-time, it's can be challenging to have an active painting practice along full-time work.
"So, it's given me a bit more time to reflect on painting, which has been good."
Related: Arthur Guy finalists announced
Winning the Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize for Emma would be "the biggest thing".
"It's one of the biggest painting prizes in the country so it would be amazing," she said.
"I feel like being included as a finalist that I've won already. A lot of the artists shortlisted in the prize have a much higher profile and are more senior, so I feel like I've won being included in that list."
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