Portrait of Māori climate activist Tuhi-Ao Bailey wins $20,000 Adam Portraiture Award

The winning artwork, Tuhi-Ao, is an oil painting on canvas. Source: NZ Herald.

A Taranaki artist has won a $20,000 art prize for her portrait of prominent Māori climate activist Tuhi-Ao Bailey.

Maryanne Shearman’s work Tuhi-Ao, an oil painting on canvas, was chosen as the winner from 451 entries and 37 finalists in the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award on Wednesday evening. The win was announced at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata today.

“I wanted to paint a picture of someone who deserved to be painted - someone who deserves to be honoured, who doesn’t always do that for themselves,” Shearman told the Herald.

Shearman was “super hopeful that I could capture not just her beauty, but the heaviness she carries for her kaupapa”.

“I had in my head the kind of wairua I wanted to capture, then I went to Parihaka and just took 100 or so photos of her in her space.

“I wanted to get her tangi, her cry.”

Shearman chose sets of favourites amongst the photos she had taken and allowed Bailey to choose the final picture.

Many of the photos were “too heavy” and “too sad”, and despite wanting to capture Bailey’s sadness, the final image ended up being something completely different.

They settled on a shot of Bailey “full smile, mid-kōrero, a gesture which captures the light”.

“She is standing in the Parihaka food-forest, next to the awa Waitotoroa. Ko ia te whenua, ko te whenua ko ia.”

When Shearman discovered she’d won the award, she felt “super honoured”, and “encouraged that the themes that I’m wanting to talk about and paint are themes that other people are hungry for”.

Winner of the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award, Maryanne Shearman, with her winning artwork, Tuhi-Ao. Photo / NZ Herald

When asked why she thought the judges chose her work, she said “I hope it’s about beauty, but beauty that goes hand in hand with grief.”

The judging panel said in a statement it was “more than just exceptional realism” but was also “a brilliant piece of painting”.

“The artist has captured the subject’s face and smile in a way that makes her alive with joy, but also gives a strong sense of her character and life beyond this moment. The light plays across her face, her hand points to us and welcomes us in with a gesture that is dignified and generous.

“But it was the artist’s combination of accuracy with looseness that lifted the work for us. The bush in the background is softly, almost enigmatically rendered in contrast to the foreground, so it doesn’t distract or detract from our connection with the subject.

“Occasional flourishes of brushwork in the plants around the edges add depth and movement to the composition.

“The artist has succeeded in capturing an authentic and layered sense of the subject’s character and her sense of openness and fun. Together, these elements brought us back to all the things that painting can be.”

The runner-up and winner of the $2500 second prize in the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award was Hazel Rae from Christchurch for her work, Lindsey’s Garden. Source: NZ Herald

The runner-up and winner of the $2500 second prize was awarded to Hazel Rae from Christchurch for her work, Lindsey’s Garden, an oil painting on canvas, which the judges said showed a “clever understanding of composition”.

“The rendering of the leaves, fruit and flowers is remarkable, and we loved how the subject herself becomes part of the garden.”

For the first time in the award’s history, the judges have also funded their own special third prize award of $1500 to Clark Roworth from Wellington for his work Me and Lady P, an oil painting.

“There’s an undeniable sense of attitude to this work that reflects the charisma of the subject, who is depicted in his own space, being exactly who he is,” the judges said.

The third prize award of $1500 in the 2024 Adam Portraiture Award went to artist Clark Roworth from Wellington for his work Me and Lady P, an oil painting. Source: NZ Herald

“From the hair, to the glasses, to the toy lion, every element offers us insight into this person . . . In this painting’s spirit of ‘more is more’, we were moved to create an additional one-off judges’ prize in order to bring this unforgettable work into the mix.”

The Adam Portraiture Award exhibition will run at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakata in Shed 11 on Wellington’s waterfront from May 23 to August 11. After this, the exhibition will be touring nationally, with most of the artworks for sale.

Melissa Nightingale is a Wellington-based reporter who covers crime, justice and news in the capital. She joined the Herald in 2016 and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.

- NZ Herald