The Lester Prize 2020

The Lester Prize 2020

The Lester Prize is celebrating its fourteenth anniversary in 2020 and its fifth year at the Art Gallery of WA.


The Lester Prize is one of the nation’s most recognised and prestigious fine art prizes. The prize pool available to professional, emerging and young artists is now worth almost $85,000, including the main prize of $50,000.

This year's forty finalists were chosen from 750 entries received from artists across Australia. Twelve finalists are from WA, eight from NSW, seven from VIC, five from SA, three each from QLD and TAS, and one each from the ACT and NT. Sixteen of the finalists have been named as finalists in previous years of the competition.

This year’s Main Awards Panel comprises of Western Australian artist Abdul-Rahman Abdullah; AGWA Associate Curator, Projects Rachel Ciesla; Alan R Dodge AM; Perth based curators Gemma Weston and Laetitia Wilson.

The finalists' artworks are on display in the Centenary Galleries at AGWA from 31 October to 29 November 2020.  

The winners were announced on 30 October at the Main Awards Night at AGWA. The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2020 winner was Serena Cowie for her work titled The conversation.

This year's prize pool consists of:

  • The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture (selected by a panel of judges) | $50,000
  • Tony Fini Foundation Artist Prize (selected by artists’ peers) | $10,000 cash
  • Minderoo Foundation Spirit Prize | $10,000 cash
  • Baldock Family People’s Choice Prize (selected by the general public) | $10,000 cash
  • Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize | $5,000 cash
  • Highly Commended x 2 (selected by a panel of judges) | $1,000 cash, $550 domestic art transport voucher, $500 framing voucher plus $250 art supplies voucher each

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Related Information




The Lester Prize for Portraiture 2020 Winners

The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture

Serena Cowie the conversation
Serena Cowie The conversation.
Subject: Maria Arvanitis and Alexandra Perrott. Oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm.

Artist Serena Cowie (VIC) with her portrait The conversation is The Richard Lester Prize for Portraiture 2020 Winner of WA’s premier portrait prize – The Lester Prize.

Serena wins $50,000 cash donated by founding sponsor The Lester Group.

Artist Statement
My two sitters, Lexie and Maria, and myself, come from a generation where success and influence are determined by what is posted on social media. I see success as a journey that will far outlive the phenomena of Instagram or Twitter—unlike a photo, it is not instantaneous. Success is like a painting—a slow process that involves mistakes, setbacks and accidents. It is hoped the result will be a masterpiece of lessons and perseverance articulated through layers of brushstrokes. I admire Lexie and Maria because they are destined for success through their hard work—they are both masterpieces.

About the Subject
Maria Arvanitis and Alexandra Perrott are my oldest friends. Having grown up with my subjects for almost two decades, it was an intimate experience to truly look at them—dissecting every element of their countenance and translating that onto the canvas. What I created was not a technically mimetic replication of their faces, but rather an emotional portrayal of how I see and understand my friends. In many ways, what I produced was a more realistic portrayal, as it preferences emotions and intimacy over didactic physical features.

The polished execution of The conversation and the portrayal of the intimacy between these two larger-than-life women, offer a compelling insight into the nature of friendship in an era of social and digital media. The exquisitely refined facture of this painting is perfectly attuned to the temporal sensibilities of our technological age.

AGWA’s Guest Artistic Director Ian Strange, Art Historian and Professor Dr. Clarissa Ball and Director of John Curtin Gallery Chris Malcolm
The Lester Prize Judges 2020 commented about Serena’s work

Tony Fini Foundation Artist Prize

Sebastian Galloway, Warm air, cool light
Sebastian Galloway Warm air, cool light.
Subject: Pirrin Francis. Oil on Aluminium, 60 x 40 cm.

Artist Statement

I commenced Warm air, cool light in February 2020 before the arrival of COVID-19 in Australia. The portrait had a purpose then but, like everyone, I had no clue how life’s plans would soon rapidly change.

Created for a painting workshop where people would, now unimaginably, gather less than 1.5m apart. My subject, Pirrin had just returned from visiting family interstate—something she now longs for but cannot easily do. Having completed this portrait in July, the work has now come to represent both a period in time and our collective experience. It’s difficult to extract personalised narratives when so many share a similar one. I suspect the narrative of loss and change will resonate with many people and be seen in the art created during this time.

Minderoo Foundation Spirit Prize

Stacey Evangelou Warrior by spirit
Stacey Evangelou Warrior by spirit.
Subject: Joe Williams. Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper, 49 x 47 cm.

Artist Statement

Warrior by spirit is a portrait of Joe Williams. Painted in ochre as a display of strength, confidence, spirituality and culture—it reflects the pride of heritage and the resilience of history. The work reveals the strength of spirit and the importance of healing and growth through the old ways—by connecting to a culture that values its lore by living with meaning, knowing how to behave, understanding ourselves, and displaying kindness.

Since first connecting with Joe in 2019, he has shown nothing but forbearance and compassion. By sharing his cultural beliefs and the importance of a healthy spirit, Joe has helped me to learn and grow. This portrait highlights—through empathy, love and understanding to First Peoples’ culture—how we can make a positive impact by listening, learning and respecting.

Baldock Family People’s Choice Prize

Jess Le Clerc Shadow and bloom.
Jess Le Clerc Shadow and bloom.
Subject: Eden Le Clerc, Jewel Le Clerc and Summer Le Clerc. Oil on canvas, 76 x 102 cm.


Jess Le Clerc received the highest number of votes and takes home $10,000 kindly donated by the Baldock Family.

One lucky voter has also won a $100 AGWA Shop voucher; a beautiful Estelle Display Lamp valued at $979 from The Montauk Lighting Co.; a 6-week Interior Design Course valued at $700 donated by Home Base Perth as well as a 4-week Garden Design Course for 2 people valued at $500 donated by Home Base Perth.

Artist Statement

Shadow and bloom is a portrait of my three daughters—Eden, Jewel and Summer. One day, I watched them jump into the dam by our house. They were playing in the calm waters with the blooms while being drawn in by the shadows of the murky waters.

Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize

Kierah Falkner Babbel Race car ya ya.
Kierah Falkner Babbel Race car ya ya.
Subject: Robyn Babbel and Karl Babbel. Acrylic on canvas, 76.2 x 61 cm.


Highly Commended

Daevid Anderson, The dying slave
Daevid Anderson The dying slave – study.
Subject: Andrew Nicholls. Oil on canvas board, 40.6 x 30.5 cm.


Joshua Cocking Making plants - a portrait of Franque
Joshua Cocking Making plants - a portrait of Franque.
Subject: Franque Batty. Oil on linen, 182 x 182 cm.

About the Prize

The Lester Prize is managed by The Lester Inc, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2007 to provide an avenue for artists to exhibit works of portraiture within Western Australia. With an annual prize pool worth over $85,000, it is now one of the nation’s most recognised and prestigious fine art prizes.

Working with government, peak arts bodies and community groups, it plays a critical role in helping to diversify WA’s local economy, grow cultural tourism, and activate spaces through creative placemaking. The Lester Prize is proud to provide locals and visitors with the opportunity to engage with the best of the artform each year in a format that puts the artists and community front-and-centre.

The Lester Prize’s exhibitions and public events program is targeted at diverse groups in the community and includes artist floor talks, workshops, live art demonstrations and pop-up community activations across the city. The Prize advocates for Australian art and artists through a full month-long exhibition season which includes:
• Main Exhibition of original artworks at AGWA
• Youth Exhibition of original artworks at Brookfield Place
• Outdoor Salon des Refusés and Community Exhibitions at Perth Cultural Centre and Brookfield Place
• Big Screen Displays at various locations around Perth.

AGWA is closed until 16 October for a final stage of redevelopment works. Details