Young artists shine as ArtExpress marks 40 years

Artist Louise Zhang still vividly recalls the moment in 2009 when she first saw her work in that year’s ArtExpress show at the Art Gallery of NSW.

“Seeing it in the space like this with all the European masters who we study in school was a really big push,” says Zhang, who has since forged a successful career with her multidisciplinary work.

Isabella Molinari (left), Sabry Beshir Mohamed (second from left), and Jim Dawes (fourth from left) have their work at ArtExpress this year, with previous exhibitors Jasper Knight and Louise Zhang.Credit:Janie Barrett

“It gave me the encouragement and validation to be like, don’t worry about making money or getting a job to survive. I felt really confident that I could pursue fine art as a degree.”

Zhang was speaking on the eve of the 2023 show featuring the work of 43 HSC visual arts students. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the show, which in the past has featured big names including Julie Fragar, Tom Polo and Ben Quilty.

The quality and variety of the work is as striking as ever. One of the more idiosyncratic pieces comes from Sydney Girls High School student Isabella Molinari, whose work is a collection of objects crocheted from toilet paper – in part an ironic comment on lockdown and the enforced separation from her family in Italy.

Molinari was on a schoolies trip with friends when she got the email to say she had been selected for ArtExpress.

“Everyone was freaking out,” she says. “And I was like, when are they going to send another email to say they had made a mistake?”

Sabry Beshir Mohamed from Ashfield Boys High School describes being selected as a “really, really joyful experience”.

His confronting work is made up of five photographic self-portraits, some showing him wrapped in cloth as for a traditional Islamic funeral.

“Pretty much the work is me battling sort of religion and, you know, home, and just trying to find my own personality and trying to find what I think is true to myself,” he says.

Veteran artist Jasper Knight, a multiple Archibald and Wynne Prize finalist, was on hand to offer advice to the class of 2023 and reminisce about his ArtExpress experience in 1996.

“It was a big tick and definitely helped a lot,” he says. “When you’re young, it feels like a fraud to say you’re an artist. It still kind of feels a bit like that.

“If I get a taxi and I say I’m a painter, they immediately think of a house painter. I don’t have the heart to say otherwise so I just start talking about quotes.”

And his best advice for the latest crop of winners?

“Stay really humble about it. A lot of people are going to see their work and there’ll be people who love it and people who hate it. And a lot of other great work didn’t get in here as well.”

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