Gerhard Ritter has won the best overall painting prize at the St Peter’s Cathedral Art Show for his third year since 2008, this time with a portrait oil painting of his close friend Mike Hainsworth.
The entry’s title, Mike – unable to forget, refers to Mike’s experiences serving in the Australian Army as a conscripted Vietnam Veteran and the personal demons he still confronts daily as a result.
While judges deemed the painting “almost technically perfect”, for Gerhard its signiﬁcance lies in its ability to start conversations about the lingering emotional eff ects of war.
“There’s more meaning to it than just simply the representation of his face – there’s a story in his eyes,” Gerhard says. “Soldiers who fought in Vietnam were given very little recognition and often little support and those issues don’t just go away.
“Vietnam Vets had a hard time in Australia and knowing Mike as a friend, I know that he suffered a bit so whatever I can do to help him I’m glad to do.”
Gerhard is a self-taught artist with a background in sculpture.
He has previously served as the Director of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts and started the South Australian Watercolour Society in 2011.
“Still, I suppose you could say I specialise in portraiture,” Gerhard says.
“When you paint a painting like that, the communication with the subject brings you that much closer to them and makes you more aware of their own situation.
“Mike actually broke down in tears when he ﬁrst saw the painting – it obviously had a deep personal effect on him.” The vivid red shirt Mike is wearing in the painting has a story of its own.
“It’s actually a battalion memento that his battalion came up with … it’s a direct copy of the sign that they originally used on the mess hall in Vietnam,” Gerhard says.
“They were then told to take it down because it presented them as a target.”
Co-chair of the 2015 Cathedral Art Prize Committee Rosslyn Cox says a jazz quartet and digital display of the works gave this year’s show a more contemporary feel.
“In putting on any art exhibition, there is a balancing act in being inclusive but also discerning to maximise the impact of both the art and the space,” Rosslyn says.
“This year I think we struck the right balance.
“Indeed looking from the artworks up to the stained glass masterpieces that adorn the Cathedral is a truly special experience.”