Emerging WA Artist Wins John Fries Award 2015

September 7, 2015

Remote West Australian artist Ben Ward is the first Aboriginal artist, and the first Western Australian, to take out the $10,000 Copyright Agency | Viscopy John Fries Award for emerging artists for his painting Our Country.

Despite picking up a paintbrush just four years ago, 65-year-old Ward, a paraplegic, has developed a distinctive painting style: using brightly coloured tessellating triangles to depict his local Miriwoong country. He paints almost daily at the Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Centre in Kununurra.

At 2.4 metres wide, Our Country is the largest in a series of 18 paintings that represent the landscape, stories and sacred sites flooded by the Lake Argyle Dam, Western Australia’s largest artificial lake, constructed near Kununurra in the east Kimberley in the early 1970s.

Ward says, “…all that’s under water now, and that’s what I paint. Everything that’s underwater, I remember every bit of it.

“I am very pleased I have won the John Fries Award. It makes me feel proud…the reason why I did this painting was to teach the younger generation about painting.”

“The message I would like to give to the people of the community is don’t lose the vision of your country. Thank you very much for the award.”

John Fries Award Curator Oliver Watts says Ward’s work is not only strikingly beautiful, it’s also really important.

“His style is about finding ways to connect to younger generations as a way of preserving the identity and heritage of his home,” he says.

“Ben’s work is a way of reconciling and remembering the quite violent appropriation of Miriwoong land. Through his paintings, he sets out to create a sense of community and the shared custodianship of the land and the language to represent it.”

New Zealand artist Kenneth Merrick was highly commended for his painting, Foible.

Oliver Watts’ co-judges this year were cross-disciplinary artist, Nell, Head Curator of International Art at the Art Gallery of NSW, Justin Paton and installation artist and John Fries Award Chair, Kath Fries.

The John Fries Award 2015 Exhibition is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm at UNSW Galleries at UNSW Art & Design – the award’s presenting partner for the second year running – located at the corner of Oxford Street and Greens Road in Paddington, Sydney until Saturday, 10 October.

The John Fries Award Finalist Exhibition 2015 is also proudly supported by International Art Services (IAS), Boree Lane Wines and Young Henrys.

The award’s $10,000 prize money is donated by the Fries family in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer, John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of Viscopy.


Download an image of Ben Ward creating Our Country.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Waringarri Arts.

Download an image of Our Country.
Credit: Our Country, 2015. Natural ochre on plywood
© Ben Ward/Licensed by Viscopy.

For further information, or to view a gallery of the finalists work in the exhibition www.johnfriesaward.com


Sue Nelson
Communications and Media Relations Manager
Copyright Agency
E: snelson@copyright.com.au

About Copyright Agency | Viscopy
Viscopy was set up by artists for artists in 1995. Today, Copyright Agency | Viscopy advocates for artists’ copyright and provides services that ensure artists are fairly rewarded for the reproduction of their work by issuing licences and collecting fees on their behalf. In doing so, we aim to help build a more resilient creative economy where new artistic expression is valued and artists are acknowledged and financially rewarded for their work.