Southern painters in finals

Gloria Salter, of Dipton, with her work Youth is Fleeting like the Flower Fades. Photos: supplied
Gloria Salter, of Dipton, with her work Youth is Fleeting like the Flower Fades. Photos: supplied
Three southern artists have made the finals of New Zealand’s most prestigious portrait award, the Adams Portraiture Awards. As well as being in contention for $20,000 in prize money, their works will be exhibited in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. Rebecca Fox talks to Brian Stewart, Gloria Salter and Warren Chilton about their works.

Dunedin painter Brian Stewart is "gobsmacked" that a portrait of his granddaughter has made the finals of the Adams Portraiture Award.

Having only painted five portraits in the past, Stewart had "never dreamed" his work Maid of the Mist would make the finals but entered on the urging of his partner Carmen.

The self-taught painter, a retired marine biologist, painted the work from a photograph he took on a grandfather-granddaughter trip to Milford Sound visiting Stirling Falls.

"I could see her trying to drink in the grandeur of the place and attempted to capture that look on canvas."

His granddaughter Shelby Sutherland thinks the work is "cool", he says.

Stewart’s usual subject matter varies widely from colourful geometric abstracts to more mundane scenes, usually with an emphasis on realism. He often drew on inspiration from visiting Antarctica as part of his old job.

Brian Stewart.
Brian Stewart.
"I tend to avoid traditional landscapes, preferring works with perhaps a hidden meaning or that might make people think or do a double take."

His work has evolved in the 20 years since he picked it back up again as his confidence has grown.

"I don’t do as many abstracts now as I used to. I find I have been willing to tackle much more complicated subject matter over the past few years."

He paints in a small upstairs room in his 127-year-old home at least three days a week when not distracted by house renovations or "tinkering" with his sports car.

"I find painting quite therapeutic, and selling a work is always very gratifying."

Like Stewart, Gloria Salter is a self-taught painter, but unlike him she has only been painting for a few years.

She was "over the moon with excitement" when she found out she was a finalist for Youth is Fleeting like the Flower Fades.

Maid of the Mist, by Brian Stewart, of Dunedin.
Maid of the Mist, by Brian Stewart, of Dunedin.
"It was my first time entering an art competition, and I felt reassured and grateful for the recognition, especially considering my age compared to other entrants."

Just 16-years-old, Salter, who lives in Dipton, is studying year 12 through distance learning with Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu including NCEA level 2 painting and photography.

"Studying with Te Kura has allowed me to focus on the subjects I enjoy with fewer distractions and organise my study schedule, unlike a normal face-to-face school."

She started out drawing from "learn to draw" type books and still draws regularly.

"Growing up, I was always surrounded by creativity, with an artist mother and sister who always inspired me to create art. Creating artworks that I am proud of is fulfilling and motivates me to make more art. Art brings meaning to my life and boosts my self-esteem."

It was while drawing she discovered an interest in portraiture and how she can convey a range of emotions and characters.

"I find the human face so fascinating and unique, as every individual has distinct features that make them, them. While a particular animal or plant can sometimes look similar to another, every human face is different."

Warren Chilton.
Warren Chilton.
Her finalist work is a self-portrait incorporating her favourite flowers, roses. She set the whole pose up and photographed it using her cellphone and used that as a reference for her painting. She also used gold leaf to add decorative elements to the background.

"I thought the botanical fan complemented beautifully with the roses, making it a fantastic prop. I struck a typical flamenco pose which to me captured my youthful energy at that time.

"Thinking about how fleeting youth can be, I thought depicting petals falling would be a great representation of that. Through this self-portrait, I wanted to convey the message that, like roses, we too will wither away eventually, and as someone who often ponders the limited time we have on this earth, I believe it was appropriate to convey the message through a self-portrait. 

"It would also be wonderful to look back on it when I am older. I think the painting is a reflection of my young, energetic, and perhaps dramatic personality."

Recently, Salter has started using her own reference material and photographs to create her art. Before this, she sourced her references online. 

"This change has allowed me to be more creative and original in my realistic and sometimes surrealistic approach to painting and drawing." 

She likes to paint every day if possible, often setting up her easel in the dining room or her brother’s room, or if not she spends time editing or photographing for art references. 

Warren Chilton’s self-portrait Midnight.
Warren Chilton’s self-portrait Midnight.
She is still in the process of developing her artistic style and is hoping to incorporate more background into her future work.

"I would also like to switch to oil paints one day."

The other southern finalist is Dunedin painter Warren Chilton also with a self-portrait he describes as "a self that is a distorted stranger or a part that dwells deep inside".

While he declined to comment on making the finals, the painter provided his artists statement for the awards. He studied at Otago School of Fine Arts in the mid-‘90s and has had work exhibited in Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

He painted the portrait at night in low light "where shadows play tricks on the eye and mind, like a captured glimpse out of the corner of eye" which is why he titled it Midnight.

The southern works are among 37 finalists selected from 451 entries from around the country by judges Felicity Milburn, lead curator at Christchurch Art Gallery, and Wellington-based artist Karl Maughan. The winning work will be announced on May 22 and the finalists’ work exhibited at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakata.


Adam Portraiture Award, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakata in Shed 11, Wellington, May 23 to August 11.