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Priceless Portraits

A spotlight is shone on senior members of the Northern Territory this month, as the Portrait of a Senior Territorian Award returns to celebrate our older generation, Territory artists, and the art of portraiture.

By Tierney Seccull

If a picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine what these portraits are worth, the sitters equipped with decades of life experience under their belts. Oh, the stories they could tell. 

The Portrait of a Senior Territorian Award (POAST) is back to celebrate our thriving senior community, giving NT artists the chance to flex their creative muscles through portraiture. 

It’s an outdated perspective that older members of the community contribute little to society. On the contrary, this important exhibition beautifully proves otherwise, sharing senior personalities and their stories. 

Held every second year in the Red Centre or the Top End, it’s Darwin’s turn to play host, this year’s Award facilitated by the team at Tactile Arts. General Manager Aneka Truman says the organisation is honoured to take on POAST in 2023. 

“As Tactile Arts has so many members that are of that age group, we have first-hand experience on how those members support us ... I think their impact on the community is often overlooked. It’s nice to do something for people that may not get the recognition that they deserve.” 

Capturing the essence of a person through art – their personality, their features, their story – is no mean feat, even for the most accomplished of artists. Montana Kitching took out last year’s top prize for her portrait Vicki of Jacana, and admits there’s pressure to do the subject justice. 

“When you ask someone if you can paint them, I think a lot of people get super self-conscious and end up saying no because they get frightened – it’s like looking in a mirror, I guess, but it’s someone’s else’s perception of you, so there’s a lot at stake, for sure,” she says. 

“With my portraits, I really try to bring out stand-out personality traits and the overall energy of the person, with colour and facial expression, their posture. I think there’s a lot at stake when you’re trying to paint someone in a way that’s really true to them and to the way that you see them, but in a flattering way that’s not going to offend them or make them feel self-conscious.” 

Loved by the community at large and with a serious financial score for artists – including $7,000 for the overall winner and $1,000 for People’s Choice – this year’s POAST graces the walls of Parliament House, something Truman says is an accomplishment in itself. 

“It’s an amazing stage, and a huge achievement just to have your work in such a prestigious location.” 

Someone champing at the bit to see the works created this year is Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chansey Paech. 

“Behind every portrait is a fascinating Territory tale, and it is very true that a picture speaks a thousand words, so I am really looking forward to viewing this year’s exhibition,” he says. 

“It is a fabulous way to showcase the artistic excellence and creativity of our visual storytellers, as well as the achievements and contributions our seniors make to their communities and the Territory as a whole.” 

Throwing back to last year, Kitching first heard about the art award just four days before the submission deadline, admitting she "wrote it off” given the tight turnaround. She went to her job where she works as a nurse, and realised the perfect subject was working right alongside her. 

“The whole day, I was just thinking about it. Who would I paint? Who stands out? And then, obviously I was working with Vicki ... and it just kind of hit me,” she says. 

“Vicki is someone that really does keep the water flowing ... And she’s cheeky and friendly – I really, really admire and respect that in anyone, and that keeps the [hospital] ward going, I think. 

“I thought ‘this ward would not be the same if we had someone else doing this job. It’s such an important role that doesn’t get celebrated enough!’ Her energy and her presence, I just really started to reflect on it all. It was a really nice process to paint her.” 

Helen Menzies treads both worlds as arts practitioner and senior, and lets out a cheeky chuckle at the words “older demographic”. Having volunteered her time for many years at Tactile Arts, she says POAST is an all ‘round positive for the NT. 

“There is a feel-good thing about it. People go along and learn about what people have done, because there’s always a story about the person that’s been painted and the artist that’s involved. It just brings them all together.” 

You're invited to meet the new tenants of Parliament House, hear their unique tales, and celebrate the Territory's wonderful world of art. 

Portrait of a Senior Territorian Exhibition 

Thumbnail & header: Images: 2022 Portrait of a Senior Territorian Award at Araluen Arts Centre. Photos: Oliver Eclipse 
Inset: 2022 Portrait of a Senior Territorian winner, Montana Kitching, ‘Vicki of Jacana’ (detail), 2022, oil on paper, 16.5x14cm 

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