Lester Prize weekend away to the Collie Art Gallery

Last Updated: 17 Apr 2024
Saoirse Hunter-O'Brien

Winners and finalists from the ‘Lester Prize for Portraiture’ are once again on display at the Collie Art Gallery for the next 6 weeks until May 19. Located just two hours south of Perth, this is the perfect excuse for a day trip or weekend away.

The Lester Prize for Portraiture stands as one of Australia's top four arts prizes, boasting a substantial prize pool of $105,000, with $50,000 earmarked for the top finalist.  Each year, more than 950 applications are received from around Australia, from which only 40 finalists earn a coveted spot in the exhibition.

With a philosophy that art should be based on the merit of the art, not the artist, finalists are de-identified, providing equal opportunity for both emerging and established artists to be considered. From a pool of 40 finalists, an independent panel of judges determines the recipients of several prizes, which include the prestigious $50,000 Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture.

The 2023 winners were selected in November last year and out of 40 finalists, 37 of which are on display in Collie. You can see images of the finalists here.

The Collie Art Gallery

The Collie Art Gallery is an unexpected jewel of the Southwest. Opened in 2015, it is the only purpose-built art gallery in Western Australia besides the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

The gallery was built to provide a home for the town's prestigious art collection, which includes works generously bequeathed by the late Claude Hotchin, including renowned Australian artists Norman Lindsay, Sydney Nolan, Guy Grey-Smith, Elizabeth Durack and Arthur Boyd (senior). The collection was gifted by Claude to the community of Collie in 1954 and remains a cornerstone of the gallery's offerings.

Rising from humble beginnings, Hotchin became one of Western Australia's most prolific art benefactors, acquiring an average of one painting per week over four decades for donation to various galleries and institutions. His contributions extended beyond Collie, shaping the art collections of numerous regional towns across Western Australia. His legacy endures through an astounding 2000+ paintings that have been donated to public art galleries, local governments, and other institutions throughout the region.

The Gallery was the realization of a dream of Mrs Jan Wallace, who first began lobbying the Collie Shire Council in the 1970s for a home for the town’s significant art collection. Local legend has it that she would take her baby in a bassinet to Council meetings. That baby would be in his 40s when the gallery opened.

Collie Art Gallery Lester Prize Exhibition.

Designed by Bunbury architect Kent Lyon, the gallery boasts 150 square meters of exhibition space and a 50-square-metre studio, both equipped with climate control and lighting tailored to ensure optimal viewing conditions and artwork preservation.

As a community-sponsored gallery, part-time Gallery Coordinator Payam Parishanzadeh is the only paid employee. Originally from Iran, Payam is incredibly passionate about the range of exhibitions on display at the gallery and the value it provides to locals and visitors to the region. As with Margaret River, the Collie River Valley has a thriving local arts community, many of which are on display, along with local artisan products.

 The gallery also has its own art prize with an extraordinary $50,000 cash prize for the winner and a total prize pool at the last awards of $67,000. Supported by Bendigo Bank, which also contributed $500,000 for the building of the gallery, the awards have attracted nearly 1000 applicants since the wards began in 2018. The details of next year’s Awards will be released in June of this year.

To find the gallery, go to 134 Throssell Street in Collie.

The trip

Collie is an easy two-hour drive from Perth down the freeway with an option to divert through the Southwest Highway and explore some of the smaller towns on the way. The drive from Collie to Bunbury is also stunning and presents some lovely views from the top of the Darling Range looking across Bunbury and stunning Geographe Bay.

On the way down, the Harvey Visitor Centre is worth a visit, as is the roadside shrine built by more than 1,000 local Italians interned in camps during WW2. If you enjoy your art, Payam also recommends a side trip to see the magnificent mural at Wellington Dam. The Ferguson Valley Wine Region is right next door and all the mod cons of Bunbury are just 30 minutes away.

If you are going to stay in Collie, Payam recommends staying at the Collie Ridge Motel, the Banksia Motel or Collie’s newest accommodation addition, The Black Diamond Lodge which is owned by the Collie Art Gallery’s former artistic director. For the best bites in town, Payam recommends the Crown Hotel (not to be confused with Crown Casino) and the local Federal Hotel Pub, or ‘The Fed’, as it is affectionately called by locals.

If camping is more your style, the Lake Kepwari campground is just a short 16-kilometre drive from Collie. This man-made lake was created as part of conservation efforts to rehabilitate the landscape around the old coal mine and is a great spot for fishing, jet skiing, canoeing and picnicking. If bushwalking, birdwatching and swimming in still, tranquil waters are more your scene, Honeymoon Pool is just two kilometres from Lake Kepwari.

For more hotels and attractions, see the localista guide to:

Art galleries in WA

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