Sunday, 9 June 2013

Welsh Artist of the Year 2013

Sarah Ball - Gang member IV

I was privileged to be a selector for Welsh Artist of the Year 2013 this year, along with artist and broadcaster, Richard Huw Morgan, painter, Neale Howells, Ceramicist, Christine Jones and St David's Gallery Exhibition Officer, Ruth Cayford. Today the awards ceremony was held at St David's Hall in Cardiff.

The winner, painter Sarah Ball was for me a clear contender from the start. The diminutive size of her skilfully made portraits bring a powerful intensity to her work and echo the photographs from which they were sourced (often from police records and museum archives).  They have the slightly unsettling presence of subjects in a rogues’ gallery. Isolated from the background paraphernalia of life, like mug shots or passport photos, the faces and titles alone must tell you their story. They have a ghost-like quality which reminds us of the very function of a portrait, to capture a fleeting, living moment and hold it still for our gaze forever. Peering in to the fine details, as you must to appreciate these pieces, you are drawn in to imagine the circumstances and stories that might lie behind the image.

John Abell - Three Graces: All the Floods Left Them
The runner-up this year was also a very strong voice in the mix. John Abell is a young print-maker of exuberant talents – he describes himself on his blog as ‘…artist, vagabond and part-time dandy ’and that energy and swagger is apparent in his large-scale woodcuts. Like Sarah Ball, he is telling stories but the techniques could not be more different, Abell’s work is audaciously vigorous and bold. The materials he uses to make his printing plates are scavenged and makeshift bringing an edgy immediacy to an ancient technique.

David Barnes received the photography prize this year for his image Swan. Again we are invited to engage with implied story telling through his cleverly realised compositions and subjects which often hint at nefarious or marginal antics and exchanges but also bring into play sophisticated subtexts of visual language.

There are two sculpture prizes this year, for quite different pieces of work. Sean Olsen's intriguing robot Paint-Bot V-2 which we imagine might create its own strange artworks – it has the dormant quality of a ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ that might be snapped into life at any moment. Jonathan Anderson’s glossy, black ‘Dark Anomaly’ is a departure from his often-used material of coal-dust, bringing a raw edge to his sculpture that simultaneously talks about the beauty and mystery of the infinite cosmos and the lumpen materiality and insatiable consumption of human beings.

We were spoiled for choice with ceramics this year with a very strong submission of exceptional work, the winner, Morgen Hall surprised us with her new collection of soda fired porcelain tapas dishes that could as easily be sculptural objects as functional ceramic ware.

The drawing prize, awarded to Iwan Bala recognised the media and techniques he has used in his work on paper. There is a distinct sense of materiality, with the rough textures and the use of drawing implements and washes to create this and his other distinctive works. Bala is known for the political and polemical content of his work, but this prize also acknowledges the artistic choices in their making.

A photograph by Patricia Zaid won the Student Prize and takes a quite traditional subject of a chapel interior bringing a timeless poignancy and atmospheric quality to the image.
Four artists were highly commended, Jin Eui Kim for his ceramic piece Object No. 8, Jo Berry for her painting, Untitled, Jonathan Williams for his photograph, Home is not where you live, but where they understand you and Angharad Pearce Jones' for her sculpture triptych Disc Cutter Landscapes.