2021 Lester Prize won by Sid Tapia’s portrait of homeless man Siaosi Feiloakitau
NSW artist Sid Tapia has won WA’s premier portrait prize for his painting of a Sydney homeless man.
The painting of Siaosi Feiloakitau titled Through You was tonight announced the winner of the 2021 Lester Prize, which comes with $50,000 in prize money.
Tapia said he met the “very gentle, easy going and humble” man known as Sia in the Sydney CBD while he was asking passers-by for spare change
“At first I wanted to engage with him to see if he was someone I’d like to paint. From his countenance and heart, I could tell this guy was really awesome,” he said.
“He lives a very simple life, worked a warehouse job, and enjoyed playing rugby league when he was younger.
“It’s lovely to be able to paint portraits of people in such a way where you get to really know them first and hopefully partake in the preciousness of their life, to see beyond who they may be or what they may be.
“Oil painting is such a beautiful medium and to be recognised like this is so encouraging; it means I’m doing something good with my art.”
The win comes just two years after Tapia first started painting with oils on canvas, initiated by his long admiration of the medium and to also be closer to home for his family, wife Anna-Mei and daughters Skylar-Lovelle and Sianna-Lovelle.
The 48-year-old artist had already made a name for himself as a professional skateboarder and is known for his street art murals and illustrations on Adidas sneakers and skateboards.
Tapia painted the portrait from photographs he took of the gentle giant, originally from Tonga, before he had even heard of The Lester Prize and went back to tell Feiloakitau when he decided to enter the prestigious competition.
“He has a lot of strong features about him so I took a few snaps and then from that I decided to paint something quite challenging,” he said.
“I went for a very small scale (20x20cm). I’m so used to extreme canvases by painting on buildings, so I thought to make it more challenging I would go the opposite way. I can paint a two-storey building portrait in three or four days. This particular painting took me a solid three and a half weeks of 10-12 hour days.”
He has since been able to share the news of his double win with Feiloakitau and plans to share some of the prize money with him.
Unable to attend the awards function last night due to border restrictions, Tapia recorded a heartfelt speech to thank all those involved.
Tapia’s artwork, Through You, was also awarded the $5,000 Barton Family Foundation Installers' Prize out of the 40 finalists now on exhibit at Art Gallery of WA’s Centenary Galleries.
Other prizes were awarded to Ashurst Emerging Artist winner Illyampi Victor Burton (WA), Minderoo Foundation Spirit winner Emily Song (WA) and Oxlades Highly Commended winners Narelle Zeller (ACT) and Sally Ryan (NSW).
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