A Whangārei artist has been named as one of 51 finalists for the Adam Portraiture Award, a biennial prizegiving which celebrates New Zealand's most talented portrait painters.

Sally Spicer's self-portrait titled Before I Forget was among 373 entries nationwide and will feature in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata at the end of the month.

The oil painting on wooden panel pictures Spicer, eyes closed, holding up her hair with bird silhouettes emerging below and around her.

"The painting was inspired by the mental load from my varied and sometimes conflicting roles as mother, wife, full-time employee and artist, and how I master them. I imagined the birds as my thoughts and worries," Spicer explained.

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The portrait's title nods to Jacqueline Fahey, a New Zealand painter and writer, and her approach to domestic life and art.

Spicer said the artwork was showing her from a personal perspective and she painted it at a time when she felt overwhelmed with coordinating the various aspects in her life – a feeling that has since settled.

Onerahi artist Sally Spicer juggles different roles as mother, wife, artist and full-time employee. Photo / John Stone
Onerahi artist Sally Spicer juggles different roles as mother, wife, artist and full-time employee. Photo / John Stone

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Spicer said she was fascinated by the variety of gesture, expression, and beauty of the human form and explores through her work themes of femininity, youth, memory and nostalgia.

Born in Whangārei, Spicer moved to Auckland to complete a degree at the Elam School of Fine Arts and eventually returned North to start her family.

Spicer works as a gallery assistant at the Hangar Art Gallery and takes commissions.

Though Spicer has had her art on display before – including a solo exhibition at the Quarry Arts Centre – the Adam Portraiture exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery will be the biggest and most exciting event yet.

It was the third time Spicer had entered the competition and she said being selected as one of the finalists was her main ambition.

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The judges will be announcing the winner, who will receive $20,000 and be on permanent display in Wellington, the runner-up as well as the People's Choice award on the opening evening, February 26.

All 51 entries will be part of the Portrait Gallery exhibition until May 22, and then tour nationally.