Bluethumb Art Prize 2022: Lauren Starr

Bendigo-based photographer Lauren Starr has been announced as the overall winner at this year's Bluethumb Art Prize, Australia's richest art award. Judged by Blak Douglas, Del Kathryn Barton, Tamara Dean, Kathrin Longhurst, and last year's winner Loribelle Spirovski, this year's award also marks the tenth anniversary of Bluethumb Art Gallery. In the wake of the announcement, Artist Profile spoke with Starr about her photographic process, her studio space, and her plans for new work facilitated by the prize.

Can you tell us a little about your work towards the Bluethumb Art Prize-winning photograph, Midas’ Daughter II?

It’s funny, but I guess like many artworks, the inspiration came from multiple sources. I read a lot of historical literature and had just finished reading Circe by Madeline Miller. It reignited my love of mythology. I was also busy reading about the Victorian Goldfields, so I guess I had gold on the brain. Throw in some adoration of Gustav Klimt’s work and the seed was sown. After months of incubation and sketching I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to achieve. I collected foliage and fruit to spray paint and hand paint in gold.

And most importantly, there was the buy-in of my six-year-old daughter. Being a mother, I wanted to create a piece that would be a visceral reminder of how important my children are. I didn’t want to be like King Midas and realise too late what matters in life. I painted my daughter head to toe in gold body paint, and miraculously she was very happy to play the part of the golden statue. The result exceeded my expectations. She was so beautiful and serene, yet it was a palpable message to appreciate our loved ones. I never expected in that moment that the work would win a national prize. 

What drives your continual return to mythological themes?

I do often work with mythologies and plan to do more in the future. I am working on a piece that’s loosely based on the Selkie folklores, as well a woman hibernating under a tree that’s inspired by Persephone. I’m drawn to creating work that’s steeped in narrative, symbolism, and hidden layers. 

You’ve previously stated that you “didn’t walk a clear path to photography or art” – can you tell us more about your beginnings as an artist?

I’ve been a schoolteacher for fifteen years, and it was on a trip to New York ten years ago that I felt a strong calling to do something creative. I considered writing, but bought a camera and it was the magic that I felt when I brought a scene to life that led me down a photographic path.

I enrolled in a short photography course at RMIT and became quickly obsessed. I started a small business photographing families . . . It wasn’t until 2020 that I realised I wanted to exclusively make my own art and put it out into the world. It was hard for me to deal with my own imposter syndrome, and it took time and perseverance to become comfortable with the term “artist.” 

How does your hybrid studio and gallery space in Bendigo shape the way you work? 

A lucky opportunity came up for me in mid-2020, where I was offered a space to rent in Bendigo’s art district, View St, in Valentine’s Antique Gallery. Peter Valentine, a huge supporter of the arts, was committing part of the building to provide space for artists to take up residency.

It was a risk, as I was very new to the art world. I like to follow the bouncing ball, however, and am so glad I took the leap. It’s a gorgeous heritage building in the heart of town, and a community working space for the artists that reside there. We all rent our own gallery/studio spaces and cheer each other on. Then the antiques side of the building is full of gorgeous, inspiring seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furniture. 

Can you tell me anything of your plans for future works in light of the Prize? Do you have a particular piece of equipment or body of work that you’d like to use the funds for, for example?

The 150,000-dollar question is what to do with it! I’m going to take some time and space to consider it, but to me it’s a symbol of freedom. For an artist to win that amount of money in recognition of their work . . . it’s life changing. I can put more time and energy into making art. My daughter wants to go to Paris, so we will have a chat about that! Pay the mortgage? How wonderful to have so many options. I can’t thank Bluethumb enough for this immense gift. 

When I thought I was simply winning the photograph category ($10,000) I’d picked out a new, mirrorless camera and had begun researching a new computer. I’d like to learn underwater photography for a future project, so this will allow me to buy a special waterproof house for my camera, and take some freediving courses! I have a project bubbling away about the Goldfields era, so I will focus on that initially and hopefully have it completed next year. 


Artist Profile congratulates Starr for her overall and photography category wins, along with each of the eight other category winners: Peter Tankey for still life, Shaz Spannenburg for digital, Donovan Christie for landscape, Jodi Steward for sculpture, John Reid for abstraction, Monika Dia’k for portraiture, Martha Protty for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander award, and Konstantinos Missios for the Founders award. 

Voting for the People’s Choice Award remains open.


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