Emerging art: Bluethumb Art Prize 2018

Young, scrappy and hungry, art startup Bluethumb is a game-changer for artists.

‘Smoke’ by Erin Nicholls. Marker and pencil on watercolour paper. 71cm (W) x 53.5cm (H) x 4cm (D)

Online marketplace Bluethumb enables artists to sell their works direct-to-public. For ordinary consumer products, marketplaces can rely on buyers to have had some brick-and-mortar experience. Everyone buys clothing and food, forming taste preferences along the way. But art? Bluethumb say yes.

To encourage artists, a $10,000 Art Prize pool was divided across five category winners. Overall category winner Hyunji Kim was awarded another $10,000 for ‘Painless (Luke)‘ on canvas. The lack of conventional restrictions to entry had removed barriers like “cost, difficulty, and bias” which elsewhere discourage the majority of starter artists. A vast 2,346 entries was received.

Vlona Mehmedi curated the exhibition of 30 finalists at Bluethumb headquarters. Here are my favourites, which look even better in person.

‘The Saga’ by Eva Beltran. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 120cm (W) x 90cm (H) x 4cm (D)

The Saga by Eva Beltran. Abstract figuration. Perspective is complicated by linework variations and layers of mixed media. Note the horse motif, a playful inclusion that blurs categorisation of this family portrait. Beltran’s anachronistic artwork is told in a visual language that recalls Cubist, Symbolist, and Surrealist tradition.

‘Hunting for Honey’ by Laurie Marburduk. Ochre and PVA fixative on Eucalyptus stringybark, 227cm (W) x 100cm (H) x 0.3cm (D)

Hunting for Honey by Laurie MarburdukAbstract landscape. Marburduk is a senior artist in a Northern Territory aboriginal collective. Her work is in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection, and this oversized bark painting is worth twice the price. Intricate hatching is blocked with negative space for figures. This is a living form of an ancient art, in all its scale, detail, tactility, and scent.


‘Sally Rugg’ by Kim Leutwyler. Oil paint on canvas. 101cm (W) x 101cm (H) x 5cm (D)

Sally Rugg by Kim Leutwyler. Contemporary portraiture. Leutwyler is from a lineage of female artists who subvert portraiture tropes. To compare: Del Kathryn Barton and Kiki Smith use folklore iconography to depict mythological figures, while Leutwyler uses colour field to depict the personal as political. Bluethumb’s own Freddy Grant judges it, “An honest and powerful portrait that captures Sally’s strength, while simultaneously capturing her exhaustion from fighting the good fight.” The subject, Sally Rugg, was then tirelessly campaigning for marriage equality.


‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ by Sally Browne. Gouache on watercolour paper. 77.5cm (W) x 96.5cm (H) x 5cm (D)

Modern Life is Rubbish by Sally BrowneContemporary nature. What appears to be Japonism turns out to be a sympathetic commentary on the white Ibis, and its declining natural habitat. The species has been forced out of wetlands into cities, where it is derisively nicknamed the “bin chicken.” Its red leg band identifies this bird as a research subject, or an aviary escapee.


‘Construct 6/10’ by Tim Allen. Pigment ink-jet print. 80cm (W) x 60cm (H) x 5cm (D)

Construct 6/10 by Tim Allen. Suburban dystopia. Allen is doing something different to other Australian drone photographers. Instead of training his lens on beaches and deserts, he is looking at man-made landscapes. Such views are typically the dry purview of policy documentation, absent of photogenic decision. By applying techniques of art composition, Allen’s scenes aestheticise globalisation.


‘Smoke’ by Erin Nicholls. Marker and pencil on watercolour paper. 71cm (W) x 53.5cm (H) x 4cm (D)

Smoke by Erin Nicholls. Urban dystopia. A man in a suit smokes alone in an alleyway. Nicholl’s picture of modern Japan is reminiscent of anonymous cities everywhere. Time of day is ambiguous, as is year of date. Claustrophobic, filmic, and stoic, this unsettling work is from a series influenced by the art of Blade Runner and Studio Ghibli.

This brave new world of online art marketplaces bypasses middlemen. No longer is there the persuasive presence of a curator or collector to influence taste anxiety about art. It is a gamble. It is also revolutionary. Be a rebel, test your taste.

– Maloti

Maloti writes about art and music.

Select entries of the Bluethumb Art Prize are available for purchase.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Bluethumb.
Image credits: Courtesy of Bluethumb on behalf of individual artists.