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Helping an elderly in-law move into a new home led to a $25,000 national painting prize for Winnipeg artist Brian Hunter.
His piece, Two empty trays mounted vertically, was named the winner of the 18th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition earlier this week at a gala in Toronto.
The contest drew 560 submissions from artists from across the country and Hunter’s painting was one of 15 finalists named for the award earlier this year.
The painting — the $25,000 grand prize is actually RBC’s purchase price for the work, which becomes part of the bank’s corporate art collection — is a representation of two letterpress boxes where his wife’s grandmother kept family keepsakes over the years. He noticed the items when he was helping her move into an assisted-living facility, Hunter says.
"It was an idea to represent the nostalgia and individuality of those objects," he says.
The competition’s jury chose Hunter’s work because it was "straddling a bridge between abstraction and representation in a compelling and seemingly effortless way," a press release says.
The blending of the actual with the abstract is something Hunter strives for in his works.
He says he’s always been a fan of the abstract and expressionist artists of the 1960s, and the series of paintings the contest-winner comes from gets its inspiration from artists such as Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning.
"I like that my work exists between both worlds," he says.
Hunter grew up in Winnipeg, but moved to Montreal in 2003 to study art at Concordia University. He lived there for six years and, along with his wife, Carleigh, decided to move to South Korea to teach English as a second language. They moved to Winnipeg in 2013, and he landed a job at Border Crossings magazine.
The move also allowed him to focus more on his art. He’s worked in several different media, but he’s honed his focus on painting recently, he says.
"Painting, sometimes it’s a bit intimidating," Hunter says of the many centuries of masterworks. "Working with newer technologies (is attractive) because you don’t have to compete with previous history."
The award is designed to highlight Canada’s emerging artists, which applies to the 31-year-old Hunter. He’s had some international exposure when he lived in Montreal, but since moving to Winnipeg, he’s mostly shown at member shows around the city, at venues such as the Martha Street Studio, Aceart and the Platform Centre.
He entered the competition, following in his friends’ footsteps, but never thought he would win, he says.
"I was pretty choked up because I didn’t see it coming," Hunter says of the Tuesday night gala in Toronto where the announcement was made.
The RBC competition victory will encourage him to broaden his artistic horizons and gain some attention from galleries and collectors from across the country, he says.
All the finalists were given professional development and networking opportunities that are part of the competition.
"I’m hoping this will put my name out there and expose my work to a wider audience," Hunter says.
Hunter’s painting, along with the other 14 finalists, are on display at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto until Sunday and go on display at Art Toronto from Oct. 28 to 31.
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
Updated on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 3:44 PM CDT: Updated