Belgrave arts thrive in new exhibit

2024 McCUBBIN Award winner 'Lost Innocence - Sima Rubeshovski' by Kayleen West.

By Emma Xerri

Attracting entries from all over Australia, this year’s Sherbrooke Art Society awards garnered 108 entries from 50 artists, proving the arts scene continues to thrive in the hills, where namesake artists Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin worked and visited over a hundred years ago.

“A lot of exhibitions seem to be suffering from dwindling numbers, but we managed to get over 100 entries, which was really good, and it shows that there’s a lot of people who are still active out there painting,” Sherbrooke Art Society member and local artist Leanne Vassallo said.

“My favourite thing about the awards is that it covers all aspects from still life, portraits, landscapes and seascapes.

“And this year we have a wide range of works across all mediums. We have oil, watercolour, acrylic, pastel and drawings.

“There’s just such a diverse range of works and in every medium, so every artist can participate.

“We’ve also seen more contemporary work this year.

“The Streeton Award used to be for the ‘best traditional landscape,’ but because of the great contemporary entries, we’ve opened it up to ‘best landscape’.”

And while this year’s Streeton Award winner, Ben Winspear, may have won the award with a more traditional landscape piece, his minimal but dynamic brush strokes reflected the once groundbreaking style of Streeton himself.

Other major award winners were Barbra McManus (Master’s Circle), Caroline Lewallen (Roberts Award) and Kayleen West (McCubbin Award), who finished first in their categories, among the other finalists selected by coveted judge and Archibald Prize finalist, Paul McDonald Smith.

“I was nearly in tears when I received the award,” Kayleen West said, after taking home the McCubbin award for her painting ‘Lost Innocence – Sima Rubenshovski.’

“It was my first exhibition back after having stepped away from the art world for a couple of decades, so to take that plunge and qualify first was very exciting.

“And small works are so often dwarfed in a show, so when I dropped it off and saw all of the large pieces, I thought ‘better luck next year’,” she laughed.

After having “squirrelled” away in her studio for quite some time, Kayleen’s return to the public art world was spurred on by a “heartsickness” at the “separation and disunity” she observed around her.

“I was on Instagram and I came across these images of children who had been killed in the holocaust,” she added.

“And there was something about this particular child’s eyes that just drew me in.

“Her little face said everything; that beautiful things can be destroyed when division creeps in.

“But when I painted her, I didn’t go for an exact portrait, I just wanted to capture the feeling of her eyes – the innocence.

Her painting of the Palestinian-Jewish girl serves as a “a cry for the innocent children who have no choice but to deal with the consequences of adult behaviour.”

Drawing on her experience as a children’s book illustrator, Kayleen’s works stem from a desire for better, consistently aligning her work with the themes of “hope and encouragement.”

“We’re meant to be a community, and we’re meant to care for each other.

“I believe humanity can do better.”

The exhibition is on now at the Sherbrooke Art Gallery until 15 June.

All the winners and most of the works can also be viewed via the online gallery at