Illawarra artist Christopher Zanko a finalist in prestigious Wynne Prize
UOW Visual Arts graduate thrilled to be recognised for his vibrant, nostalgic landscape
A talented young artist who has become known for his vivid, nostalgic depictions of Australian suburbia has been named a finalist in the prestigious Wynne Prize, the nation’s foremost landscape painting award.
Christopher Zanko, who received a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts) from the University of Wollongong in 2015, said he was thrilled to be recognised among Australia’s best landscape artists just a few years after graduating. The finalists were announced yesterday (Thursday 2 May).
“It’s the first time I’ve entered the Wynne Prize. It’s one of the highest calibre art prizes in Australia, so I’m really stoked to be recognised and have this level of exposure,” Christopher said.
His work draws on his experience growing up in the Illawarra, with a nod to the fibro beach shacks, art deco structures, and red-brick architecture of his youth.
The artworks are wood carved and then painted, a painstaking, exacting process that takes Christopher many hours to complete.
What sets his work apart is the unique combination of beauty, vibrancy and sentimentality. He is bearing witness to the changes that have swept the Illawarra over the past few decades, transforming a region reliant on industry and steel to a region of innovation and learning.
The winning artwork, Bulli: Brickworks and Black Diamonds, captures a red-brick house that is reminiscent of Australia in the 1960s. Christopher is one of 29 Australian artists named as finalists in the prize.
“I grew up and still live in Wollongong, so for me, a lot of these houses are a very familiar part of a regional town,” Christopher said. “The painting depicts a house in Bulli that is very traditional and reminiscent of the 1960s.
“The fibro beach shacks and mid-century, post-war designed houses used to be so prolific, but a lot of those places are disappearing quickly at the moment.
“I’m trying to capture and retain the sense of the past that gave these places their character.”
Christopher Zanko's Bulli: Brickworks and Black Diamonds.
Despite only graduating a few years ago, Christopher has already become a celebrated and well-known figure in the art world. In 2015, he was a finalist in the Lloyd Rees Memorial Youth Art Award and the following year, he was the winner of the Gosford Art Prize.
Based in Austinmer, Christopher said he has found a sense of community in the region’s growing art scene. His first show, at the Egg and Dart in Thirroul, where he is part of an artists’ collective, sold out in just two hours.
“It has been a massive goal for me to be a finalist in the Wynne.
“It’s been a different path to walk, being an artist from a regional town, as opposed to say being an artist in Melbourne or Sydney. The path to exhibiting your work and having your work exposed is quite different in the city, and going to art school there,” he said.
“Studying at UOW, the lecturers really helped to shape my own art practice.”
Christopher’s Bulli: Brickworks and Black Diamonds will be included in an exhibit at the Art Gallery of NSW of the Archibald, Sulman, and Wynne prize finalists. He also has two upcoming solo shows; at Brisbane’s Edwina Corlette Gallery in June and at Egg and Dart in November.
“I’m really stoked to be recognised,” Christopher said. “I’ve had to keep it a secret since I found out so I’m happy to be able to share the news now.”