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A PAINTING with a same-sex marriage message has won the first Benalla Nude prize.
The competition’s judge, Daniel Thomas, said the “twist” of the two naked women in a loving embrace had swayed him to award the $50,000 prize to Melbourne artist Juan Davila for his After Image, &.
The 180 -centimetre by 150-centimetre oil canvas places the women in moonlight in a dark red and purple forest with a giant ampersand.
EDITORIAL: Benalla to bare more
Art historian and curator Thomas said a work’s meaning and emotional impact were more important than technical skill.
“It’s the uncommercialism, ideas and story,” he said.
“It’s about emotional love and it happens to be two women.
“For centuries nude lovers in a landscape has been conventional — you twist the convention by making it same-sex lovers and you make it even more political by making it inter-racial.”
Davila, whose work hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, said his aim wasn’t a political statement but to recreate women he’d glimpsed from a train.
“It’s called After Image because of the recording of this scene in my inner diary,” he said.
“I just wanted to paint a love scene, a tender moment, and women as a couple.”
The Chilean-born artist said the painting also highlighted the “blindness of our politicians”.
He said the ampersand represented togetherness, legitimacy and “positivity”.
He would use the money to continue working at his Malvern studio.
Thomas said he also drew a message about climate change from the work’s colours.
But Davila, while welcoming the interpretation, said that hadn’t been his intention.
Thomas said 1996 Archibald Prize winner Wendy Sharps’s Glitta Supernova Burlesque Star would have won if Davila hadn’t entered, although it wasn’t one of three commended.
They were Lily Mae Martin’s 33 Weeks (a pregnant woman), Darren McDonald’s model with chair and Matthew Martin’s Wilted Rose of a woman slumped over a chair.
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