Australian War Memorial Update: The 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize


Glen Braithwaite: Isolation (2020). Digital photograph 40 x 60 cm


News from the Australian War Memorial.

Voting in the Napier Waller Art Prize 2020 People’s Choice Award is now open. Explore the work of 31 finalists in this year’s prize, including those awarded ‘highly commended’ by our judging panel, and cast your vote

The annual Napier Waller Art Prize is open to former and current Australian Defence Force personnel. It encourages artistic excellence, promotes the transformative power of creativity, and raises awareness of the experiences and talent of service personnel. There is no required theme, and entrants are invited to use diverse media and original concepts.

The winner of the People’s Choice Award receives $5,000. Voting closes on Sunday 22 November 2020. Finalist art works reflect the resilience, imagination, skill and humour that members of the Australian Defence Force are well regarded for. They also comment on the challenges and consequences of military service.

An exhibition of the ‘highly commended’ art works opens on Friday 25 September at the Australian War Memorial, with the winner announced on Thursday 24 September. This work is accessioned into the Memorial’s collection, with the artist receiving a $10,000 cash prize and a two-week, all expenses paid residency with the Art Section at the Memorial.

My favourite is “In plain sight” by Ron Bradfield.


Ron Bradfield: In plain sight (2020). Strips of army, navy and dashiki shirts hooked and knotted on army scrim mesh, hand stitching. 160 x 65 x 40 cm

Bradfield’s artist statement says,
(This) is a textile work, depicting a ghillie suit made from the many shirts I have worn to hide from the view of others. While I was in the ADF and I was in my uniform, no-one saw the Aboriginal man inside, they only saw the sailor on the outside.When I left the RAN in 1997, I discovered that not being able to hide made me a target once again – just as it had before I’d first put on an ADF uniform in the late 80’s. People more often saw the “Aborigine” and not the man.

To see all the artwork and vote, go to 



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Shaun Gladwell’s video portrait of Mark Donaldson VC

Portrait of Mark Donaldson VC (video still) by Shaun Gladwell. Note the ‘chopped’ Australian National Flag patch just visible on his left shoulder.

This afternoon  I dropped by the John Curtin Gallery here in Perth to check out an exhibition by two recent Australian War artists, Ben Quilty and Shaun Gladwell, both of whom were commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to cover the conflict in Afghanistan. It’s a very contemporary approach to war art and if one is expecting the traditional heroic depictions of the military on operations they will be sadly disappointed.

I quite liked the show, particularly Ben Quilty‘s very emotional and expressive portraits of the servicemen and women that he met whilst in Afghanistan in 2011 and then subsequently painted again after their return to Australia. The resulting portraits are not pretty likenesses, but are raw, the thick impasto application of paint charged with emotion. The paintings reveal much about the vulnerability and difficulty that so many of our servicemen face when returning home and trying to reintegrate into a society that is largely indifferent to their service and sacrifice.

Shaun Gladwell traveled to Afghanistan as an official War Artist in 2009. His work includes photographs, paintings and video. One of his pieces is a video portrait of Australian Special Air Service Regiment Victoria Cross winner Mark Donaldson VC. As a badge collector I found some aspects of this work particularly interesting, including Donno’s choice of chopped ANF patch that can be seen on his left sleeve in the stills grab above. It appears that he has cut the Southern Cross from the national flag and is wearing just the Union Jack with a single star below it. Interesting… I’ve seen this a couple of times now and I wonder if there is a reason for this symbolic change or (more likely) that its just to reduce the IR signature of the full size patch?

Both artists were commissioned as part of the Official War Art Scheme, the longest running and largest commissioning program of art in Australia. The Scheme was started during WW1 and reactivated during WW2, then again for the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. In 1999 the Scheme was renewed for the Australian deployment to Timor and since then has seen artists deploy to various theatres of conflict, including the Middle East and Solomon Islands.  In 2003 the AWM commissioned a mate of mine, David Dare Parker, to be its first official War Photographer, deploying alongside artist Lewis Miller to document the Second Gulf War. The patch below is one that was given to Dave by the AWM for use during the deployment and then subsequently given to me for my collection.

Australian War Memorial Official War Photographer patch worn by

Australian War Memorial “Australian Official Photographer” patch worn by photojournalist David Dare Parker whilst embedded with Australian forces as part of the Official War Art Scheme during the Second Gulf War. (Julian Tennant Collection)


Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan and Shaun Gladwell: Afghanistan is on show at the gallery from 2 August – 14 September, 2014