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RBC offers biggest-ever purse for painting prize

Jennifer Carvalho, the painter of Stair (mid, low), is one of the 15 finalists in the 2013 RBC Canadian Painting Competition. The winner will be announced Oct. 2.

"The present-day painter refuses to die," is how Edgard Varèse might have put it. And if you want proof in an epoch that has seemed to privilege installation art and photo-based art, among other practices, consider that this year is the 15th anniversary of the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, the finalists of which – six women, nine men – are to be announced today in Toronto.

The RBC competition from its inception has not sought out and honoured veteran painters, but instead what it calls "new Canadians in the early stages of their careers." Indeed, since 1999, the finalists and the winners drawn from their ranks have almost always been in their late 20s to mid-30s.

This year RBC is awarding a total of $115,000, its biggest purse ever. The winner will receive $25,000 at a ceremony Oct. 2 in the National Gallery in Ottawa, with two runners-up each earning $15,000. But to mark the anniversary, RBC is for the first time awarding each of the remaining finalists with $5,000.

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This year's 15 finalists, culled from almost 600 entrants, were chosen by a nine-person jury headed by Ann Webb, executive director of the Canadian Art Foundation and publisher of Canadian Art magazine. The finalists are allotted by region – five from Western Canada, five from Central Canada, five from Eastern Canada.

The following are paintings from three of the finalists:

STAIR (mid, low)

2012

Jennifer Carvalho, Guelph

Oil on canvas

Educated at Hamilton's McMaster University and the University of Guelph, Carvalho says "the banal, the overlooked and the seemingly uneventful places of lived experience are of critical interest" to her in her work. "I borrow the language of the cinematic establishing shot, secondary shot and a variety of framing conventions from cinematography." She uses the "material exploration of paint" to transform seemingly ordinary subjects into "an engaged experience."

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UNTIL THE LATTER FIRE SHALL HEAT THE DEEP

2012

Nathaniel Hurtubise, Montreal

Oil on canvas

Hurtubise graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design University in 2009 and currently is earning an MFA at Concordia University in Montreal. "I am attracted to places offering mysteries that stagger the imagination," he writes, including "the remote recesses of our planet and its deep oceans, our night sky." His images, he acknowledges, "maintain a certain ambiguity," the result of the tension between what paint can do as a medium on its own and the "hints of representation" in the subject matter.

HEALING HANDS

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2012

Brian Kokoska, Vancouver

Oil on canvas

Currently living in New York, Kokoska attended Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. He says his work is as much concerned with content as with such formal concerns as colour, pattern and layering. "My recent paintings are inspired by sensibilities of youth, gender, theatricality, costume and mask aesthetics." And while the arrangements of his figures encourage viewers to generate their own narratives, the works are at the same time "heavily grounded in an art historical context."

The other 12 finalists:

WEST

Jessica Bell, Vancouver

Colleen Heslin, Vancouver

Rachelle Sawatsky, Delta

Sean Weisgerber, Saskatoon

CENTRAL

Colin Muir Dorward, Ottawa

Scott Everingham, Toronto

Laura Findlay, Guelph

Neil Harrison, Toronto

EASTERN

Brendan Flanagan, Montreal

Adam Gunn, Halifax

Jessica Mensch, ex-Montreal, now Brooklyn

Aaron Weldon, Halifax

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