IN THE 25 years Ray Thomas has been an artist, he has only ever wanted to paint a portrait of his mother.
“It’s something I’ve thought about throughout my career but I’ve never had the time,” Mr Thomas said.
“In the past two years, I’ve been a full-time carer with Mum in Thornbury and that has allowed me to do the painting.”
Mr Thomas’s portrait A Gunnai Elder - Mum Alice was awarded the $30,000 Deadly Art Award as part of this year’s Victorian Indigenous Art Awards.
The state’s richest indigenous art prize, the award was presented to the Gunnai artist on Saturday at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
Mr Thomas said the artwork was more than simply a portrait of his 94-year-old mother Alice Thomas.
He said the painting featured numerous elements, including a keyboard, possum-skin cloak, and woven basket, which each represented a story and delved into Mrs Thomas’s life.
“For example, I’ve included a keyboard because Mum has been involved with music her whole life and she used to play at fundraising functions for the Aboriginal funeral service in Melbourne,” Mr Thomas said.
“All the elements included in the painting surround mum’s childhood, her adult life and what she’s done over the years.”
The Victorian Indigenous Art Awards seek to showcase the unique character of indigenous art while building the profile of Victoria’s indigenous artists.
More than $50,000 in prizes were presented at the awards ceremony, with judges describing Mr Thomas’s work as one of ‘singular spiritual power’.
Art Gallery of Ballarat director Gordon Morrison said all the finalists were to be congratulated for the range and quality of work on show.
“My fellow judges and I were impressed with the way Ray Thomas has referenced the tradition of artists like Henri Rousseau to pay tribute to the experience of Melbourne’s urban Aboriginal community over four generations, acknowledging cultural connection through the elders to an era before white settlement,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Thomas said he felt overwhelmed to receive this year’s prize, which would go towards his future work as an artist.