'No Exit' by Sue Smith
'No Exit' by Sue Smith contributed

Taking a quirky look at Rocky icon pays off for artist

IN A parallel universe, remarkably similar to Rockhampton's CBD only upside down, a little dog on a trapeze wire is ambushed by several snarling cats.

Her life literally hangs in the balance over a chasm of clouds in an idyllic blue sky, reflected in the windows of the colonial building below - or is that above - it.


Rockhampton artist Sue Smith is a finalist in the Lethbridge 20,000 art competition with her painting 'No Exit'.
NO EXIT: Rockhampton artist Sue Smith is a finalist in the Lethbridge 20,000 art competition with her painting 'No Exit'. Jann Houley

Sue Smith's acrylic painting in canvas No Exit has been named a finalist in the prestigious $20,000 Lethbridge gallery award which will be announced on June 29 in Brisbane.

"The appeal of an art work, when it's working, is it takes you somewhere different, like a portal," Mrs Smith said.

"This architecture is recognisably Rockhampton but things are a bit skewiff, a bit more focussed on life, love and loss."

In the European 'momenti mori' tradition, the work reminds us that life is fleeting and we should make the best of every moment.

"Whether through accident or illness, we might all fall off our perch any moment so we should live a meaningful life in the meantime," Mrs Smith said.

"In this image, the clock is a bit like the clock in the movie High Noon and the cats are gunslingers."

The little dog is her 15-year old Coco who thinks that birds and neighbours' cats invading her yard are the big issue to be dealt with.

Mrs Smith came to Central Queensland in 2001 to work as director of Rockhampton's art gallery and, since 2012, has managed CQUniversity's art collection.

She said Rockhampton has a long, proud tradition of training people in the arts, such as painting and dance.

"The former TAFE on Canning St has been training people in the visual arts for 125 years," she said.

"And it's interesting to see the newcomers who've been coming to the region over the last 10 years, many from non-English speaking cultures, and what talent they bring with them."

Mrs Smith said there's plenty of inspiration outside the capital cities.

"North of Brisbane, Rockhampton really is the showpiece for colonial architecture; it doesn't get any better than the Post Office and the Customs House," she said.

"If I'm going to spend weeks painting, then I'll paint something worthwhile.

"They'll never build anything like the post office again; it's an intensive, giant piece of sculpture."

Remarkably, Mrs Smith didn't paint the building right way up then flip it.

Working from sketches and photographs, she tackled representing its distinctive shape and masonry upside down.

"I decided to paint it the way I wanted it to be seen which was very challenging," she said.

"It did my head in, frankly."

The Lethbridge award has been upgraded from $10,000 to $20,000 in prizes as it attracts increasing numbers of entrants from around Australia and overseas.

It is the richest prize for small works in the country, and this year its exhibition will be spread across the Paddington and Bulimba galleries as well as online.

Mrs Smith has already started painting an entry for the Rio Tinto Martin Hanson memorial prize which takes place in Gladstone in October.