When Jessica Le Clerc set out to create her first ever entry into the Archibald Prize, the last thing she expected was to be chosen as a finalist.
It’s a big deal for any fine artist to make it through to the finals of the Archibald – but on their first attempt?
And what makes the Sunshine Coast artist’s selection in the finals even more amazing, is that she’s got four young children, and painted her entry in the space of a week.
Why Did She Paint David Hart?
Jessica Le Clerc’s portrait is a tranquil yet moody image of artist David Hart, son of the late influential Australian artist Pro Hart, depicted with a landscape on his back.
Many Australians remember his father Pro Hart for his famous dragonfly painting in the Du Pont carpet ads of the 1980s.
But David is a successful artist in his own right, with two galleries on the Sunshine Coast.
Jessica, talking to Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings the day before the Archibald winner was announced, said she found David to be not only a portrait subject, but also an artistic mentor.
As a woman of Christian faith, she said meeting him was a good chance to connect with a like-minded believer.
“Pro Hart was one of the most influential Australian artists but also Christian artists, and then his son David has really taken on that legacy,” she said.
“He is both a professional artist but also an amazing man of God, and that is insanely unique for the fine art world.
“It was actually an opportunity to meet somebody that I could talk to. Asking him if I could paint him for the Archibald was a doorway in to have a mentor or somebody that I could ask questions.”
And Why The Landscape On His Back?
The above video shows both the portrait of David Hart, and Jessica’s journey through its creation.
On her website she says that on meeting David, she discovered his story had a number of similarities to her own.
“The Harts are from a small farming community like myself and grew up on the land,” she writes, “yet they still encouraged art and expression in way that has affected our country deeply.”
“When I sat with David for the first time and listened, I didn’t imagine that his story would be so full of ‘real life’. I wanted to do justice to that in the portrait. The landscape on his back is still growing, still being told. A really spectacular landscape is organic, messy and changing – much like our own stories.”
How A Mum Of Four Managed To Enter The Archibald Prize
While Jessica has wanted to enter the Archibald for many years, she told Hope 103.2 that she had to wait for the right moment.
“I have four kids, and having small children for many years, every year I found a reason to be too busy or feel like I wasn’t ready,” she said.
“This year I decided that no matter what, I would.
She says she would have liked to work a little longer on her Archibald entry.
“I’d managed to find a way to meet David Hart, and wanted to paint his portrait, but realised that deadline was coming really close.” she said.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to paint the artwork in a week, it was literally that’s what I had left. And I knew it was possible but I just had to work really hard… so I just kind of shut out the world and disappeared and painted for a week. But I spent long hours.
“When I got to the end I probably would’ve liked to have worked longer on it, but I just had to call it finished because it was time.”
The Inspiration For Jessica’s Art
Jessica Le Clerc comes from a dairy farming background, and on her website says she is “totally obsessed” with art, “mainly because it soothes and stills all the thoughts that race and roam around inside this brain of mine.”
“All I want to do is paint and draw people…just people,” she writes. “Everyday kind of people like you and me with our love, resilience and hope…mess, pain and scars.”
Her drawings and paintings are primarily of people, intertwined at times with images of nature such as animals and plant life.
Together with her husband Dylan, Jessica is this year co-ordinating SPARC, the Christian creative arts conference in Sydney, for the first time.
“Shocked” To Be An Archibald Finalist
Being chosen for the finals was a complete surprise, she told Hope 103.2.
“I did not realise that there was any slight possibility that I could be a finalist,” she said. “I just really wanted to enter and start to say “here I am, this is something I’m serious about”, so I am honestly still really shocked.”
The day before the prize announcement Le Clerc While she’s a little intimidated by the thought of mixing with so many elite artists at the awards event, she’s excited.
“I don’t know how I’ll go in a room full of people I’ve looked up to for the past 10 years. It’ll be great fun though. I just can’t wait to listen to people and to why they tell their stories and their processes.
“When you’re a mum and you paint in your spare time, you’re not really part of that fine art world. So I can’t wait to hear how they all function and what they get their inspiration from.”
The winner of the 2015 Archibald Prize was Newcastle artist Nigel Milsom, for his dark, spooky portrait of barrister Charles Waterstreet