Natasha Bieniek

The power of the monument is well accepted. The gravitas of the miniature much less so. Natasha Bieniek lets her diminutive paintings lasso the viewer with a quiet grace, pulling the eyes in and halting the gaze. Hers are not the kind of pictures to take in with a passing glance and it is the physical tension between the image and its audience that motivates the artist. “I want to test the limits of the painter and the viewer’s relationship, to take representation to the extreme.”

Bieniek succeeds in this challenge by the most anachronistic means: the miniature portrait, first prominent in 16th century Britain, later made redundant by photography and now ubiquitous in contemporary form as the mobile-device digital photographs which, like their earlier counterpart, are always on hand as a memento of social belonging. In an age of face recognition technology, an acute human likeness rendered in the labour intensive craft of oil painting captivates with its sense of time invested and timelessness.

Bieniek’s commitment to the rigours of academic realism landed her a scholarship to study Renaissance painting techniques in Florence in 2007. Her signature works, primarily portraits of close friends, were selected for the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013, her work was hung in the University of Queensland’s National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize. Bieniek has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize six times (between 2011 and 2021) and in 2015 she won both the Portia Geach Memorial Award and the prestigious Wynne Prize. In mid 2016, she was shortlisted as a finalist for the Fleurieu Art Prize with her miniature landscape, Kumiko. This more recent exploration into landscape painting is fuelled by an interest in how humans relate to the natural world and specifically, the impact of nature within an urban environment.

Bieniek currently maintains a full-time studio practice, spending up to a month perfecting a single painting.

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