Celebrated Sydney-based artist and UNSW Art & Design graduate Joan Ross (UNSW BFA and UNSW MFA) has won the 2017 Sulman Prize with her work, Oh history, you lied to me.

The Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting, or mural project by an Australian artist.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales, which hosts the Sulman prize along with the Archibald and Wynne prizes, defines genre painting as a composition representing some aspect or aspects of everyday life, and which may feature figurative, still-life, interior, or figure-in-landscape themes. A subject painting, in contrast, is defined as an idealised or dramatized work. Typically, a subject painting takes its theme from history, poetry, mythology, or religion.  In the cases of both subject and genre painting the style may be figurative, representative, abstract or semi-abstract. A mural is defined as a picture fixed directly to a wall or ceiling as part of an architectural and/or decorative scheme.

Ross describes her winning subject painting as a “continuation of my interrogation of colonial collecting and of Australian colonisation. I imagine history is an unfaithful lover, in his own bubble with his lies, seduction and manipulation, only seeing from his position. Recreating the Leverian Museum, a catacomb of curiosities including those from Captain Cook’s voyages, and using my signature hi-vis as a metaphor for colonisation, I am critical of the collecting mentality as an ongoing disease fuelled by superiority and greed.”

Ross explains that Oh history, you lied to me is a recontextualising of Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr Andrews, taken directly from his painting Mr and Mrs Andrews (c1750) as the "arrogant butterfly murderer".  Ross says she chose to “render him [Mr Andrews} unconcerned for the damage his infinite collecting causes”.

Established within the terms of Sir John Sulman’s bequest, the prize was first awarded in 1936. Each year the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW invite a guest artist to judge this open competition. Finalists are displayed in an exhibition at the AGNSW (although in the early years all entrants were hung).

2017 Sulman Prize finalists include Abdul Abdullah (UNSW Art & Design), Karen Black, Jon Cattapan, Michelle Cawthorne (UNSW Art & Design), Marc Etherington, David Frank, Gregory Hodge, Kim Leutwyler, Robert Malherbe / Philjames, Glenn Morgan, Michael Peck, Jason Phu (UNSW Art & Design)Tom Polo (UNSW Art & Design), Monica Rohan, Joan Ross (UNSW Art & Design), Nicola Smith, Nick Swann (UNSW Art & Design)Angela Tiatia (UNSW Art & Design), and Caroline Zilinsky (UNSW Art & Design).