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The opportunity that may change your life

A person stands in front of  a large abstract painting of repeated pattersn

Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship 2012 winner Mitch Cairns with his scholarship-winning work One half of a woman’s waistline repeated 2012

Being awarded the scholarship gave me the confidence to trust the choices I was then making as an artist; the challenge was to then allow the opportunity of the residency to further test and better reflect upon this new found sense of self and attitude toward artmaking.
Mitch Cairns, Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship recipient 2012 and judge 2022

It’s been ten years since artist Mitch Cairns was awarded the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (or the BWTAS, as we call it for short). Since then he has built an impressive career. It’s included appearances as an Archibald Prize finalist – in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – and winning the Archibald in 2017. His 2015 Archibald portrait of artist Peter Powditch was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for our collection.

The judge of the BWTAS in 2012 was artist Del Kathryn Barton (herself an Archibald winner in 2008, who would go on to win the Archibald again in 2013). She said of Mitch’s winning body of work for BWTAS: ‘Mitch’s curious, lyrical, figurative works are not only compelling visually, they reveal developed skill-sets vital to the mad adventure of making paintings! The sensitivity of surface, composition and of paint within these works reflect a disciplined and conceptually passionate practice.’

This year, Mitch is back as a judge for the scholarship, which is open now for applications.

The BWTAS has been awarded annually since 1999 to an Australian artist aged 20–30 with an established body of work. It was created from an endowment by Beryl Whiteley in memory of her son, Brett Whiteley (1939–1992), both to encourage excellence in painting and to offer career development opportunities to young artists. The inspiration was the profound effect international travel and study had on Brett, as a result of winning the Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship at the age of 20.

Brett Whiteley needs little introduction to Australian audiences, being one of the country’s most celebrated artists. But in the late 1950s, he was a recent school-leaver, working in the layout and commercial art department of Lintas advertising agency, doing life drawing at the National Art College in East Sydney (where he met fellow artist Wendy Julius, whom he would later marry) and sometimes at the Julian Ashton Art School, attending sketch clubs, and painting on the weekends around Bathurst, Sofala, Hill End and the south coast of NSW.

Then in 1959 Whiteley entered the Italian Government Art Travelling Scholarship, judged by artist Russell Drysdale at the Art Gallery of NSW. He submitted four artworks including July painting, now in the Art Gallery’s collection, and Around Bathurst, the painting for which he was awarded the scholarship. In February 1960, he arrived in Europe. The rest, well, it’s history.

An abstract painting which includes large solid forms in brown

Brett Whiteley July painting c1959, Art Gallery of New South Wales © Wendy Whiteley / Copyright Agency

The idea behind the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship is to provide other young artists with formative opportunities.

Georgia Spain, a scholarship recipient, said about the residency: ‘I'm not exaggerating when I say that the two weeks were completely life changing for me, and signified not only a direct shift in my practice, but also in my dedication to pursuing a life of making art. I came away with new energy and motivation about painting which I believe came from spending time around other artists.’ She went on to win the 2021 Sir John Sulman Prize for her work, Getting down or falling up.

Georgia was one of five artists awarded the scholarship in 2020, along with Charlie Ingemar Harding, Emily Grace Imeson, Dan Kyle and Lily Platts. Due to the impact of COVID-19, that was the first year that the scholarship was granted to more than one artist and involved a residency, as a group, at Shark Island, Kangaroo Valley rather than a longer, individual residency overseas, at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris.

A person stands in front of a large figurative painting

Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship 2020 winner Georgia Spain with her Sulman Prize 2021 winning work Getting down or falling up.

In each and every case, the results of the scholarship are deeply personal. Mitch Cairns recalls, ‘In Paris, I didn't paint at all; I wrote, I made prints and drawings. My first exhibition on returning to Australia was a suite of poems entitled Cigarette cm at TCB in Melbourne. On reflection, the experience of the Cité fixed language as a key visual element for consideration within my image making.’

In 2022, the BWTAS offers the chance of residencies both local and international. With one application, an entrant may be considered for either a three-month residency at the Cité internationale des Arts, Paris, and $40,000, which will be awarded to one artist; or a two-week residency at Shark Island, Kangaroo Valley and $10,000, which will be awarded to five artists.

So, odds alone, there’s never been a better time to put your hat in the ring.

And for those who might feel somewhat intimidated by the prospect, our message is: please don’t be. And if you’ve tried before, think about trying again.

‘I would encourage young painters to enter, or perhaps re-enter, and to consider it as a proposal to assess your work to date �� that in itself is a rewarding experience’, says Mitch Cairns.

Entries for the 2022 scholarship close on 1 August. Find out how you can enter

An exhibition of works by this year’s scholarship recipients will be held at the Brett Whiteley Studio from 20 October 2022.