Like the hazy recollections of an ageing mind, Clara Adolphs’s paintings cling to scarcely remembered histories and brief encounters between friends and strangers. The result of Adolphs’s fascination with old photos and the life stories they represent, each work is a melancholy study in mortality and the impermanence of memory.

Using photographs collected from flea markets and old newspaper clippings, Adolphs reimagines the anonymous faces and locations in thick impasto paint, working quickly to capture the stories that emerge. Male figures dominate, as Adolphs finds herself drawn repeatedly to observing how men’s experience of the world differs from that of women.

The decision to use found images rather than those from her own collection is a considered one, giving Adolphs the emotional distance to paint intuitively and without sentiment. Free to reconstruct their ambiguous narratives, she immortalises otherwise fleeting moments of human experience as something beautiful and tangible, and not easily forgotten.

Born in Sydney, Clara Adolphs is a three-time finalist of the Portia Geach Memorial Prize, the Mosman Art Prize and the Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, as well as the Sir John Sulman Prize, Salon des Refuses, Paddington Art Prize and the Sunshine Coast Art Prize. In 2017 she was awarded the Eva Breuer Traveling Art Scholarship through the Art Gallery of New South Wales as well as the Young Emerging Artist Award of the Mosman Art Prize. In 2015, Adolphs won Second Prize in the Outback Art Prize at Broken Hill Regional Gallery. Most recently, Adolphs was named a finalist in the 2019 Archibald Prize for her portrait of Rosemary Laing and Geoff Kleem. In 2016 she was named a finalist in the Archibald Prize for her portrait of actor Terry Serio.

Carrie McCarthy