Felix Hatherley, <em>The chaotic identity of humans conveyed through falling apples</em>, 2023, Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 80.0 cm, Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Southbank, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
© Felix Hatherley

Top Arts 2024


Since 1994, Top Arts has showcased talented young artists at the National Gallery of Victoria. Now in its thirtieth year, the exhibition is presented annually as part of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s Season of Excellence.

Selected from a pool of more than 1200 applicants from schools across Victoria, Top Arts 2024 highlights the work of forty-five students who excelled in VCE art subjects in 2023. Each work displays strong conceptual development, imagination, individuality and technical excellence.

Top Arts 2024, embraces a breadth of media and complex interests from which several notable themes emerged, including chaos, space, perception and repetition. Daring new forms coexist with the traditional. An array of paintings hung in the crowded style of a nineteenth-century salon testifies to the enduring appeal of the art form to students. Other artists use and misuse digital technology, repurpose cathode-ray tube televisions and experiment with 3D printing and generative AI.


To be an artist is to live with chaos. A creative process often begins in a state of disorder and invents a path towards clarity. Artists are uniquely able to shape the formless, express the inexpressible and embrace the inexhaustible possibilities of chaos.

These possibilities are explored by exhibitors as they inhabit the space between chaos and order. Timothy Yap navigates the narrow path between spontaneity and planning; accident and intention, to produce a series of transformed ceramic vessels imbued with the complexities of emotional expression. Jasper Cali takes a Surrealist approach, using coffee drippings to create linking characters that reflect the disorder of human emotions.

Timothy Yap, <em>The beauty in chaos</em>, 2023, Stoneware, plaster filler, Camberwell Grammar School, Canterbury, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Timothy Yap

Jasper Cali, <em>Throw Me a Rope</em>, 2023, Ink and coffee on paper, 64.0 x 46.3 cm (x6), Sandringham College, Sandringham, Boonwurrung Country<br/>
&copy; Jasper Cali

Others ask what we might do when chaos overwhelms us and meaning breaks down. Hector Hennessey leans on humour, inventing a mascot for nihilism who walks the street at night ruminating on its feelings. In Alia Ferdowsian’s short film, language itself degrades into a chaotic yet strangely recognisable gibberish.

Hector Hennessey, <em>Mascot for Nihilism</em>, 2023, Colour digital video, cardboard, synthetic fabric, plywood, silicone, plastic, (a) 2 min 36 sec (b) 255.0 x 140.0 x 183.0 cm, Princes Hill Secondary College, Carlton North, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Hector Hennessey

Alia Ferdowsian, <em>Egmode or Eggmode</em>, 2023, Colour digital video, Duration: 3 min 51 sec, Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Southbank, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Alia Ferdowsian

There are also works that explore how we define ourselves amid chaos. Felix Hatherley paints apples in a storm of visual information to symbolise the confusion of identity. Jirra Abrahams-Fletcher produces two monster masks which playfully portray individuals who struggle to find their place. Alex Saveski symbolically sheds a latex skin tattooed with her childhood memories as she prepares to enter the unknowns of the adult world.

Alex Saveski, <em>Primitive skin</em>, 2023, Latex, coloured fibre-tipped pen, human hair, 5.0 x 90.0 x 152 cm, Melbourne Girls' College, Richmond, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Alex Saveski

Jirra Abrahams-Fletcher, <em>Self Loathing Poet</em>, 2023, cardboard, textile, synthetic polymer paint, plaster, wire, inkjet prints, (a) 67.0 x 39.5 x 43.0 cm (b) 55.0 x 63.0 x 37.0 cm (c) 85.3 x 61.0 cm (d) 85.3 x 61.0 cm, Wesley College, Melbourne, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Jirra Abrahams-Fletcher


Many exhibitors consider space in their work – from claustrophobia to its ability to produce sites of connection. I Anne Fo projects animations of domestic activity onto her intricately drawn spaces of a crowded apartment block, while Milly Borrack venerates urban space, installing and documenting a series of makeshift shrines in the backstreets of the city. Jasper Muir’s photographs are nostalgically tinged, honouring the spaces that enabled the best version of himself.

Anne Fo, <em>City of lights</em>, 2023, Digital animation, graphite on paper, Duration: 3 min 16 sec, Mount Waverley Secondary College, Mount Waverley, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Anne Fo

Milly Borrack, <em>A Prayer to the Urban World #1</em>, 2023, inkjet print, 59.5 x 77.0cm, Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar School, Ivanhoe, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Milly Borrack

Jasper Muir, <em>Beige</em>, 2023, Inkjet print, 59.4 x 84.1 cm, Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School, Warranwood, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Jasper Muir

In other instances, exhibitors explore realms that cross from the material into the digital or surreal. Mercedes Lucarelli considers the increasingly pervasive and toxic space of social media. Alex Saveski collapses the spaces of the inner and outer worlds, taking a contraption she conceived in a dream for a walk around an industrial estate. Brydie Shields’s photographic series experiments with the space of the picture plane, breaking a single view into fragments and repetitiously reordering them.

Mercedes Lucarelli, <em>cityloopz</em>, 2023, Colour digital video, Duration: 1 min 36 sec, Sacred Heart Girls College, Hughesdale, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Mercedes Lucarelli

Alex Saveski, <em>Girl Box</em>, 2023, Cardboard, masking tape, synthetic polymer paint, fibre-tipped pen, nylon (thread), steel wire, 88.0 x 57.0 x 83.5 cm, Melbourne Girls' College, Richmond, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Alex Saveski

The Salon

The crowded display of contemporary paintings is a nod to the Paris Salon, first popularised in the late seventeenth century. The Paris Salon became an annual exhibition, attracting significant attention from artists, who all competed to have their work selected by a jury. After the jury refused an unusually high number of works for the 1863 Salon, an alternative exhibition, Salon des Refusés, was staged to provide a platform for the rejected works. In this same spirit, Elliot Broome created Bottom Arts 2023 to offer a space for unsuccessful applicants to Top Arts. Bottom Arts 2023 parodies juried arts shows to emphasise the importance of alternative perspectives in art.

Elliot Broome, <em>Bottom Arts</em> 2023, 2023, Website, Video duration unspecified, Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, Southbank, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Elliot Broome

The kaleidoscopic range of paintings in Top Arts 2024 testifies to the enduring popularity of the medium. Some artists enjoy the expressive range of the art form, while others relish its physical qualities. With a contrasting palette of ominous blues and rich flesh tones, Ellisa Rutledge creates an image both luxurious and alarming. Janelle Moss’s Victorian land and seascapes are so thick with paint that they become sculptural, and Gwyneth op’t Hoog’s self-portrait challenges historical depictions of women in art with the use of rough impasto paint to highlight imperfection.

Elissa Rutledge, <em>To know is to see</em>, 2023, Oil on canvas, 152.0 x 50.0 cm, St Leonard's College, Brighton East, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Elissa Rutledge

Janelle Moss, <em>Victorian Impressionism landscapes series (artwork 1)</em>, 2023, Oil on polyester cotton board, framed, 30.5 x 40.6 cm, Belmont High School, Geelong, Wathaurong Country<br/>
&copy; Janelle Moss

Gwyneth Op't Hoog, <em>A sleeping Venus</em>, 2023, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 100.0 x 150.0 cm, Melbourne Girls' College, Richmond, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Gwyneth Op't Hoog

Many works explore the expressive potential of portrait painting. From many thin layers of oil paint, Kate Jing’s portraits of her younger siblings build a nostalgic, dream-like atmosphere. Heidi Cahir’s work is personal too; she paints her mother as strong and self-possessed in celebration of her resilience. Similarly, Julia Wang paints her mother’s story, evoking the alienation of immigrating to a new land. In contrast, Janis D’Souza reduces all tonal gradients in her painting to flat rectangular pixels to symbolise the dehumanising nature of the corporate world. The three figures of her triptych successively lose their detail, their texture and their individuality.

Kate Jing, <em>Portraits of my siblings (detail)</em>, 2023, Oil on canvas, 60.0 x 46.0 cm , Alkira Secondary College, Cranbourne North, Boonwurrung Country<br/>
&copy; Kate Jing

Heidi Cahir, <em>After the Fact</em>, 2023, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 66.0 x 45.5 cm (irreg), Northern Bay College, Corio, Wathaurong Country<br/>
&copy; Heidi Cahir

Other works of art explore the opportunities for whimsy in painting. Hugo Brunton’s Goats on the farm’s bright colours and surreal perspective offer a playful charm. Evelyn Noone combines her love of film photography with an appreciation of the everyday to produce a series of domestic still life paintings in a breezy pastel light.

Hugo Brunton, <em>Kids of the Farm</em>, 2023, Oil on canvas, 81.5 x 58.0 cm, Woodleigh School Senior Campus, Langwarrin, Boonwurrung Country<br/>
&copy; Hugo Brunton

Evelyn Noone, <em>Row</em>, 2023, Oil on plywood, 120.0 x 90.0 cm, John Paul College, Frankston, Boonwurrung Country<br/>
&copy; Evelyn Noone


Perception is our ability to make sense of the world. It is the information that we see, hear or become aware of through the senses. And, most importantly, it is also how we understand or interpret this information.
Many of this year’s exhibitors examine the complexities of perception. Chaaya Sharma’s meticulous coloured-pencil drawings express her interest in how our perception of the physical world is distorted by refractions of light. Mataso Chung’s 3D-printed head explores the difference between perception and interpretation: an animation projected from its eye shows an objective reality, while a smaller screen in the back of the head reveals a skewed interpretation.

Mataso Chung, <em>A Conceptual Paradigm</em>, 2023, 3D printed sculpture, black and white digital video, (a) 41.5 x 33.0 x 33.0 cm (b) 7 min 11 sec, Footscray High School, Footscray, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Mataso Chung

Some artists use devices in their work to inform the viewer’s perception of their subjects. In her intimate photographs, Jett Leduc reveals the personality of her subject through objects in their environment. Sofia Lajter’s darkly atmospheric photographs of plants evoke a range of human emotions.

Jett Leduc, <em>DORA (FLORA)</em>, 2023, Inkjet print, (a) 59.4 x 42.0 cm (b) 59.4 x 42.0 cm (c) 59.4 x 42.0 cm, (d) 59.4 x 42.0 cm, Ballarat High School, Ballarat, Wathaurong Country<br/>
&copy; Jett Leduc

Sofia Lajter, <em>Observe the demonstrated (detail)</em>, 2023, Inkjet print, 61.5 x 43.1 cm, Westbourne Grammar School, Truganina, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Sofia Lajter

Exhibitors also consider how we often change our behaviour to satisfy the perception of others. Georgina Richards’s series of cyanotypes describe childhood memories of unconsciously masking symptoms of ADHD in order to be perceived as neurotypical. Ella Robbins’s film installation invites us to share in the discomfort of a young woman at a train station as she is stalked by the male gaze. Jorja Kavellaris draws a face pressed against glass to embody the smothering effects of patriarchal perceptions of women.

Ella Robbins, <em>ordinary</em>, 2023, Colour digital video, Duration: 2 min 45 sec, Northcote High School, Northcote, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Ella Robbins

Jorja Kavellaris, <em>Alexia</em>, 2023, Graphite on paper, coloured fibre-tipped pens, coloured pastels, 45.0 x 35.0 cm, Loreto Mandeville Hall, Toorak, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Jorja Kavellaris


Many exhibitors explore the nuances of repetition to shape aesthetic and narrative elements in their work. In his photographic series, Campbell Jensen Bainbridge uses a single symmetrical repeat to transform urban landscapes into grainy alien environments. Also using repetition, Elejandra Penfold transforms a lock of hair into a series of expressive, indecipherable glyphs.

Milo Horner emphasises negative space in his series of concrete castings, repeatedly drawing the viewer’s attention to the void and asking us to consider the fullness of the space in and around us.

Milo Horner, <em>Concrete series</em>, 2023, Concrete, dimensions variable, Mount Clear College, Mount Clear, Wathaurong Country<br/>
&copy; Milo Horner

The repeated, tessellating patterns of Eleftheria Dabos’s lino prints evoke a city’s industrial rhythms. They serve as a fitting backdrop for her sculptural works, which express the emotional consequences of keeping tempo with urban life.

Eleftheria Dabos, <em>Empty Space</em>, 2023, Synthetic polymer paint, ink on cardboard, synthetic polymer clay, Installation with varying dimensions, Glen Eira College, Caulfield East, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Eleftheria Dabos

Lucas Taylor’s film also confronts the repetitive nature of work, capturing the ennui and disconnection it breeds. His portrayal of a multi-armed figure with a vacant gaze powerfully illustrates the numbing effects of continuous, monotonous tasks.

Lucas Taylor, <em>Routine</em>, 2023, Colour digital video, 1 min 28 sec, Alice Miller School, Macedon, Wurundjeri Country<br/>
&copy; Lucas Taylor

Further information about the ideas and inspiration behind each of the exhibitors’ works can be found on the Top Arts exhibition website, where you will also discover artist interviews, examples of students’ folio pages, and teacher and student programs.The NGV is pleased to present Top Arts 2024 as part of the Gallery’s ongoing commitment to contemporary art and arts education, providing a forum for emerging Victorian artists to showcase their talents.

John Parkinson Educator, NGV.