And then I turned the page in The Age – it was a while back now – and saw it. I was, to be honest, mildly shocked. Had I been standing, I would have taken, I think, a backward step. I shouldn’t have initially recoiled in that manner in this day and age, but I did. Showing my advanced years, I guess. Two women kissing – what’s that now? It was deemed fit to print in a daily newspaper so my reaction should have been more matter of fact. And, once I caught my breath and examined it more closely, I realised that this had none of the salaciousness that’s only a click away on-line. In fact, the image was nothing if not beautiful. But it still sent a frisson through me – and continues to intrigue, so much so I’ve been back to it repeatedly. Eventually I had to find out more.
I still think to shock was the artist’s aim. Yes, artist. It’s not, as I assumed, a photograph. In fact it was a finalist for the Archibald Prize for Portraiture in 2014. And it seems I wasn’t the only one to sit up and take notice. It was a talking point at the time in artistic circles – but it didn’t achieve the ultimate gong in the awards. Pity.
A certain amount of its notoriety, if that’s the right word, came from the identity of one of the subjects of ‘The Artist Kisses’ being songstress Missy Higgins. I remember at the time there was a fair amount of conjecture around Missy’s sexuality – as if that’s anyone’s business but her own. She had been, up till then, coy on the subject – so what was she saying agreeing to sit for the portrait? These days she is married, heterosexually.
The other, the bespectacled figure, is the artist herself, Sophia Hewson. Explaining her goals in submitting the piece for judgement in the award she states the aim was to ‘…create something equally portrait, self portrait, and examination of post-feminist self-objectification(??)’ Why Ms Higgins? ‘I sought out working with Missy because I belt out her songs in the car (I understand that bit). ‘I know her to be genuinely egoless with a deep respect for the artisitc autonomy, which meant she was willing to work with me outside the traditional portrait structure.’ She certainly did that.
Sophia H only graduated, with a first class honours degree from the Victorian College of the Arts, in 2007. Already ‘Art Collector’ magazine has listed her as one of its top 50 collectable artists. She’s a multi-disciplinarian, engaging in sculpting and installations, as well as daubing. She has had a six month residency in NYC, met pornography stars in LA in research for future works and exhibited within her home state and without. She is not hugely represented in on-line galleries that I could discern, but she is obviously a talent to watch going forward. As to why she is an artist? Here’s how she responded in a 2010 interview:-
‘It seems to me artists need to get something out of themselves, I suppose they call it expression, but I don’t think it’s as pleasant a process as that, perhaps it is like that quote, a kind of exorcism. I think also for me there is a need to try and get down to the core of things, and there is a freedom I associate with being an artist or at least the possibility of a freedom.’
The artist’s web-site = http://www.sophiahewson.com/