Richard Lewer, WINNER of the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2016

Richard Lewer, WINNER of the Basil Sellers Art Prize 2016

Congratulations to Richard Lewer, winner of the 5th Basil Sellers Art Prize!

Now in its final year, the Basil Sellers Art Prize is a $100,000 acquisitive prize, with a focus on the theme of ‘art and sport’. The exhibition creates a mutual appreciation between the two, providing a platform for artists to discuss issues that impact sporting culture. The Theatre of Sports is a large 12 panel piece presenting Lewer’s dedication and passion, examining the close relationships between sport, mental illness and failure.

Samantha Comte The Theatre of Sports 

“Art and sport are not so different: “both are public spectacles that reflect society and depend on paying customers. The only real difference lies in the uncertainty of the outcome.”1 If you attend the theatre you will generally know, unlike a sporting event, the result in advance. The fascination with watching sport is the unknown. The drama is often in the moment of winning or losing – a remarkable turn-around, the tragic downfall of the top team or a heart-breaking career-ending injury. Sport, like theatre, can reveal so much about who we are – our fears, our capacity for resilience and our need to belong.


Richard Lewer’s The Theatre of Sports (2016) is a compendium of twelve paintings that form one work. It represents Lewer’s sustained passion for art and sport, and examines the role sport can play in relation to mental illness. His practice looks at extremes of behaviour, centering in this work on the very public moments of failure of well-known sporting figures.


Fascinated by the highly publicised story of swimmer Ian Thorpe’s struggle with depression, Lewer started to investigate elite athletes who suffer from extreme mental stress. He then began to research events in which those athletes had lost, come second or been injured. Having gathered hundreds of images from the web, television and magazines, Lewer selected twelve that document public scenes of the athletes’ despair, anger, frustration and dejection, rendering these in paint. Tennis player Nick Kyrgios throws his racket to the ground in frustration and rage; disbelief is written on the face of martial arts champion Ronda Rousey as she loses her title; Olympic champion Sally Pearson clutches her broken wrist in agony after crashing over a hurdle; Ian Thorpe is dejected in the pool; and a moment of despair is shared by an AFL football team. Lewer is interested in the person who comes second and what happens next to these athletes.


Years of hard training have gone into the twelve sporting moments Lewer depicts. Sport, like art, requires discipline; the ability to take risks and to keep going despite failure. Embedded in the surfaces of the paintings are the struggles, the risk-taking and the failures of the artist. Layer upon layer has been rubbed back, built up again and changed over the months that the works have taken to complete. Lewer’s Theatre of Sports documents the struggles of elite athletes. It captures the moment of loss, the agony and the disbelief. We watch the athletes struggle very publicly and are left wondering what will happen next. It is, perhaps, not through the triumphs but through the tough moments that we truly find resilience and a deeper understanding of ourselves.”

The Basil Sellers Art Prize exhibition is on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art until November 6. Be sure to see this work alongside the entries of William Mackinnon, Trent Parke & Narelle Autio. These artists were selected from over 100 entires to make the 15 finalists.

You can view the catalogue here.