Rhona MacTavish

Words  Jacqueline Rix
Photo Zoe Maeneu

Rhona MacTavish has packed a lot into her art career in the past year. Her stunning portrait of her older sister, Kenna, won the 15-16 year old category in the Tasmanian Young Archibald prize in 2014. The same piece then went on to be displayed in the Taroona High School art show, “Metamorphomix.” Rhona’s success has continued to soar this year with her portrait of Zen Cane called “Anti-Zen” recently winning the 2015 Tasmanian Young Archibald prize also, including winning the Department of Education’s ‘Secretary Award’, the ‘Overall Secondary’ category award and the ‘Overall year 11 to 12’ category award.

Softly spoken and wise beyond her years, Rhona and her family moved from England to Tasmania when she was 11 years old. Rhona tells me that she only began trying her hand at drawing during her last year of high school. After experimenting for a while, she found that faces were what fascinated her the most. It is clear that Rhona possesses natural gifts for the human face; specifically portraying emotions. Her high school art teacher encouraged her, telling her to not be dispirited by mistakes or perceived imperfections.

Rhona is currently studying at Hobart College. Her art teacher is inspiring her to experiment with her style, different types of paper and the drawing materials that she uses. Her plan for next year is to complete eight A1 portraits, each depicting a different emotion. Rhona said, “It would be interesting to see how different people respond to the drawings, to the various emotions…and that’s what I want to do, really; to be able to tell a story from someone’s face.”

Rhona clearly has a very strong sense of self for a young person. She tells me that she’s been taking a break from social media for a while in order to concentrate on things that are more important to her; such as her art and reading more books. Rhona said, “It’s been a period of self-reflection. Once you can hang out with yourself and learn to spend time alone, you’ll be a lot happier,” she affirms, smiling.

When I ask Rhona where she hopes to take her art in the future, she pauses before answering. “I’ve never really seen it as a career, to be honest,” she laughs. “What I really want to do is become an animal scientist, although I wouldn’t mind doing some commissions for people. But I wouldn’t want to compromise my art into something I wouldn’t enjoy anymore.”

Rhona’s drawings are intimate and beautifully invasive pictures, giving us a glimpse into the vulnerable, hidden sides of the people she chooses to draw. It is not only her skill, but learned positivity, that is certainly going to take Rhona a long way in the future. In the coming years, Rhona hopes to develop her style and is inspired by hyper-realistic artists such as Adam Lupton, Alyssa Monks and Eloy Morales.

It is wonderful to hear a young artist speak about their work with such pride and satisfaction. I asked Rhona if she has any advice for other young artists that are just beginning to develop their own style and she answered, “Don’t be deterred by mistakes. When it comes to your faults, you’ve got to own it. Embrace them.”


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