The National Art School Fellowship acknowledges the achievements of eminent visual artists, arts administrators, writers, advocates and academics who have made outstanding contributions to the visual arts community in Australia. The Fellowship is an honorary award for exceptional achievement and / or service within the professional domain, awarded annually by the National Art School.
The 2018 recipients of National Art School Fellowships have been announced, with the honour bestowed upon renowned painters Michael Johnson and Wendy Sharpe.
The 2018 Fellows were honoured at a celebratory dinner on Thursday 24 May 2018, held at the National Art School in a gallery space that was once the studio of celebrated Australian sculptor and NAS teacher, Rayner Hoff.
Presented at the annual Graduation ceremony alongside completing Bachelor and Master of Fine Art students, the Fellowship is the School’s highest award. Director Steven Alderton says of the Fellows: “In recognising these two prominent alumni, we are recognising their immense contributions to Australian art. Their work and their careers are inspirations to our students.”
Johnson’s award was presented after a citation from Dr Stephen Little, Head of Painting at the National Art School. Sharpe’s citation was presented by Dr Maryanne Coutts, Head of Drawing at the National Art School.
Michael Johnson is one of Australia’s most acclaimed abstract painters. After completing the five-year Diploma of Art at East Sydney Technical College in 1959, he departed for Europe like many of his contemporaries, and spent many years in both London and New York. In 1967, Johnson held his first solo exhibition at Gallery A, which, followed by The Field (1968, National Gallery of Victoria) and the São Paulo Bienal, Brazil (1969), cemented his status as the leader of a new generation of abstractionists. In 2014, Johnson won the Wynne Prize and in 2016, the Johnson Art Hotel in Brisbane was named for him.
‘When I was 15 or 16, I came here for life drawing classes. Those were the Beatnik days when the art school was a bohemian enclave, where you went to get your hands dirty. One of the great gifts of going here as a young man was the fact that there was an exceptional library and also the fact that most of the teachers were practicing artists: important and influential creative minds who we looked up to. NAS was the anchor that gave us the full embrace of the artistic climate of Sydney at the time.’ Michael Johnson, 2018
Wendy Sharpe is one of Australia’s most decorated artists, a winner of the Archibald Prize (1996), the Sulman Prize (1986), the Portia Geach Memorial Award (1995, 2003), the Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing (2014), and the first woman artist since WWII to travel as an Official Artist to the Australian Army History Unit (in East Timor, 1999). In 1986, Wendy took a short course in etching at NAS, and began teaching in the Painting and Drawing departments in 1990, taking up a permanent position in the Painting department from 1995-2005. She has been one of the school’s most outspoken supporters, famously giving a speech outside the 2016 rally at Parliament House.
‘NAS has always been a place for artists – enthusiastic, creative and exciting, where making art is the most important thing. It has always had a wonderful camaraderie between staff and students and an atmosphere of working, and experimenting. The central place of drawing in the curriculum is to be applauded and I hope will never change. NAS helps students to understand the artistic process, setting them up for life – not merely giving them a degree. This is only art school I would study in myself if I was starting out now.’
Wendy Sharpe, 2018.