'It just means the world to me'

03 June 2019 by Claire Hunter

James Farquharson

James Farquharson's work Eyes of the Damned was highly commended in the 2018 Napier Waller Art Prize.

When James Farquharson was a child growing up in Canberra, he would spend hours admiring Will Longstaff’s painting, Menin Gate at midnight, at the Australian War Memorial.

Decades later, his own work would be displayed nearby. 

In 2018, Farquharson was one of the highly commended artists in the Australian War Memorial’s inaugural Napier Waller Art Prize ­— the first national art prize offered exclusively to servicemen and servicewomen — for his self-portrait, Eyes of the damned.

“It’s fantastic,” he said at the time. “I never expected it, so I’m over the moon.”

Entries are now open for the 2019 Napier Waller Art Prize, which aims to promote artistic excellence and the healing potential of art, while raising a broader awareness of the military experience and the impact of service on the individual. 

For Farquharson, the prize was particularly special, allowing him to share his story.

“The name of the work comes from the quote about the eyes being the window on the soul,” he said.

“If the eyes are the window on the soul, then my eyes are a window on the damned.

“I’ve struggled with PTSD since I got back from East Timor in 2003 and it’s through my art that I’ve found some peace.

“I try and express my emotions and feelings and conflicts through my painting, and I suppose that’s what this work is … It expresses what I was feeling like at the time.

“I taught history and politics and worked in libraries, so it was completely at odds with my military career, and that sets up a whole other set of conflicts for me, and that’s what I was trying to express in my work.”

He has since devoted his life to his art.

“I came back from East Timor and my mate dragged me off to a continuing education course, Acrylics for beginners,” he said.

“In a lot of ways it’s sort of been my saviour.”

He grew up in Canberra and loved visiting the Memorial with his brothers. They studied the stories behind the Lancaster bomber and the midget submarine, and were moved by the art work on display.

“We used to come here for two or three hours on our own and just have the place as ourselves,” he said. “I fell in love with Menin Gate at midnight. It seemed to float in the air, and the colour scheme I used in my work comes directly from that painting; the painting that I loved the most.”

He was thrilled to see his work, which is now part of the national collection, displayed near the painting during the 2018 Napier Waller Art Prize exhibition at the Memorial.

“It’s come full circle,” he said. “It’s fantastic. Napier Waller’s work in the Hall of Memory was one of the art pieces I also fell in love with, so it was as much the name of the prize that attracted me to it as the prize itself …  It just means the world to me.”

Applications are now open for the 2019 Napier Waller Art Prize. For more details, visit here.