By John Mebberson
Walkley Award-winning artist, Theo Batten, left an important legacy that has recognised and supported creative young students in Sydney’s northern beaches for the last 10 years.
The Theo Batten Youth Art Award, established in 2004, includes a cash prize of $5,000 and is presented annually to promising Year 12 arts students. The winner is chosen from among HSC major works selected for the Express Yourself exhibition at Manly Art Gallery and Museum.
Curator Katherine Roberts says Theo Batten wanted to support the next generation of artists. “We keep his name alive through the award,” she says. “Ten students have benefited so far. They can use the award to support future study in the arts.”
Mariah Burton, 18, from Narrabeen, was awarded this year’s prize for artwork motivated by her late grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She has enrolled in design at the Commercial Arts Training College in Sydney and will use the money to pay for the use of facilities and equipment.
“The award made me feel confident in what I do,” says Mariah, who attended Mackellar Girls High last year. “It definitely inspired me.”
Last year’s winner, Arquette Cooke, 19, from Forestville is completing a Bachelor of Design at the College of the Fine Arts.
“I was over the moon,” Arquette says. “Having that money has allowed me to express myself freely and not be concerned about financial issues.”
Juz Kitson, 26, was one of the first to win of the award in 2005. It helped launch her career.
“The award paid for my first year of art school, from purchasing materials and framing of artworks to gallery hire costs for my first solo exhibition,” she says.
Juz is now working with ceramic artists in Jingdezhen, China on a future installation for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Her past works have been exhibited in galleries across the country and overseas.
Mr Batten, who died in 2003, bequeathed his Victoria Road apartment to Manly Council with the request the proceeds were used to fund the awards and acquire and conserve works for Manly Art Gallery and Museum.
“It’s an incredible legacy,” Katherine Roberts says. “Not many regional galleries get this level of support.”
Theo Batten was an acclaimed artist who began his career as a copyboy in the advertising department at David Jones. He won the Gold Walkey Award for Best Illustration in 1972 for work published in The Australia Women’s Weekly.
“The Walkley was a big thing,” says his close friend, artist Diana Cole. “He was really excited.”
She describes her friend as an exuberant man particularly renowned for meticulous work. He loved coffee with ‘a slash of brandy’ and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow cartoonists at the Black and White Artists Club.
“That’s were it all started,” Diana Cole says pointing to a drawing of old terrace houses. “They were such good times when we were all terry-hooting about. I miss him enormously.”
Theo Batten gained a strong following from his ‘Lucky Cat’ and ‘Feathers’ cartoons that ran for more than a decade in The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day magazines.
When asked what advice Batten he might give young artists today, Diana Cole hints at Theo’s mischievous personality. “Not anything very sensible,” she says.