Saturday, September 05, 2009

Selection for Threadneedle Prize & my shortlist

Beck at the Table by Aishan Yu
78 X 90 cm, Oil on Board
Winner of the £5,000 Federation of British Artists Emerging Artist Prize

I've looked at the The Threadneedle Prize shortlist. Now it's the turn of other works in the Threadneedle Prize Exhibition which is showing at the Mall Galleries until 19th September. You can see the works online by clicking the exhibition link. You can also vote for which one should win the £25,000 Prize - but only for the works selected for the shortlist and only until noon on 14th September.


Which Threadneedle piece gets your vote? is an article written by Brian Sewell, the art critic of the London Evening Standard about the selection process for this exhibition. He was one of the jurors last year and observed the selection process this year. Personally I think Sewell is good value once one accepts he does have very decided views on things. One might not always agree but at least it's interesting!

First, three cautionary notes:
  • If you submitted a work this year you might not want to read the article;
  • If you're thinking of submitting a work next year you also might not want to read it; and
  • Those who have had work accepted into the exhibition this year might not want to read it either - and one of the reasons why is highlighted in the extract below!
For everybody else, it's a jolly good read about a process which always causes much comment and debate. Getting an account of it from the inside is always an education!

The salient comment is this
Time after time, ambitious pictures were rejected for being ambitious (including one that in my view should have been the outright winner), twee little things included for being twee, and the downright incompetent praised for honesty and charm. And at the end, when the shortlist of seven from which the winner is to be selected by public vote had been assembled, one of the three judges with gravitas uttered the damning words: “Not one of these pictures is worth £25,000 [the value of the prize] — there is no winner here.”
That's the point for me.

This exhibition is full of interesting pictures and some good sculpture but in my view the overall competition needs many more good quality entries and/or - if Sewell is right - jurors who are in sympathy with the purpose of the Prize.

If this competition is to become what it aims to be - a showcase for the best in contemporary representational and figurative painting and sculpture that retains a strong reference to the real world - then I think it is absolutely imperative that artists enter their very best work rather than an example of their work. I know the work of some of the artists and have looked at the websites of others and that remark is not made at all lightly.

My shortlist for the Threadneedle Prize

I love being a jury of one - there's none of those pesky alternative perspectives to deal with! Here's my choice of an alternative shortlist. I'm not choosing any of the official shortlist on purpose - although I would have given serious consideration to a couple of the pieces.

The list is ordered alphabetically and I'm not going to tell you my favourite although I think some people might guess (feel free to try!). I have to say that the first three contenders came quickly and the last two slowly and there were about another three or four in contention.

The Airfield - evening VII by Michael Fairclough

The airfield - evening VII (£6,850)
oil on canvas, 116cm x 126 cm
The sky is a vast canvas, to understand its complexities one mst be flying through it. I am now doing this having learned to fly gliders, soaring with buzzards.
I've highlighted Michael Fairclough's paintings of skies before on this blog as part of a review of the 2008 NEAC exhibition.

There's nothing complex about them - other than the complexity which is entirely natural. Very simply, he is an acute observer of the subtleties of skies, cloud formation and light. He's also a member of the New English Art Club and exibits regularly with them and at the RA Summer exhibition and his galleries.

This painting is the sort of one which I'd love to have done myself.

Corner Shop Customers by Beatrice Haines

Corner shop customers (£2,800) by Beatrice Haines
Pencil on paper bag - 98 x 114 cms
Stuck in a tiny corner shop in New Mills boredom overcame me. I recorded scenes of everyday life on the paper bags that the shop provided for pick and mix and pastries.
This work comprises 20 paper bags on which are drawn portraits of customers of the shop. The heads and the goods they have bought are drawn in detail while outlines are used to indicate posture and clothing.

This is one of those "you really need to see it for yourself" pieces as you can't get the very fine quality of the portraiture drawing with a photograph. These are all pencil drawings and they're done on corner shop paper bags - almost certainly made from wood pulp and hence not archival. As such the work will probably need careful preservation.

I loved the way it presented me with twenty portraits of people living in New Mills, a portrait of a corner shop and a portrait of the interests of the person working behind the counter - all in one composite work.

It seems to me that this work is both emphatically figurative and about the real world!

The Prospector by Roland Hicks

The Prospector by Roland Hicks £3,500
Oil on canvas - 76 x 76 cms
"The prospector shows a tumbleweed of hairy household fluff pausing on its long journey across a domestic prairie."
Domestic fluff as a macro Still Life! I thought the concept was amusing and it certainly makes a change from most of the still lifes I see in exhibitions - bravo for looking afresh at the domestic landscape!

This is one of those quiet paintings which lingers. I'm not entirely sure why I liked this one - but I did. Maybe it's the variation in mark-making and very subtle tonal colour variations which make up the painting?

Plus of course the humour of having something which looks like a highly abstract painting actually being a portrait of a ball of fluff! One has the feeling that the artist really enjoyed writing the description of the work! ;)

Accumulation by Sara Rossberg

Accumulation is a tight cluster of people on the edge of a river, which is formed of thick waves of translucent paint, ebbing off into the calm flatness of suggested water.
This piece kept begging me to go over and look at it from the other side of the room.

I like the complexity of it. So few figurative artists tackle groups of people these days and even fewer manage to paint groups NOT in a pose for a commissioned portrait! I also like the fact that there isn't a single individual highlighted for our attention - instead our eye has to travel around the whole of the painting exploring all aspects - much as one does in the real workd when encountering a group.

Detail of Accumulation by Sara Rossberg £9,800
Acrylic and pigment on canvas - 170 x 170 cms

However what I also liked about this painting were the colours and how these have been achieved. I've seen David Brayne work with pigments and acrylic gels but he doesn't produce a surface anything like this painting. I'm not quite sure what the artist is doing but it certainly makes for a really fascinating surface. However I did find a description of the process she uses for painting on the web - and I wonder if this description is in any way linked to the painting in the exhibition.

I also liked her earlier watercolour work I found on the web - and wish I could have found a website!

Overall an imposing painting which has a voice.

Beck at the Table by Aishan Yu

You can see this work at the top of the post. This work has already won a prize as part of this competition - the Federation of British Artists Emerging Artist Prize. Part of it is on all the flyers for the competition.

I loved the glazing and the brushwork within this work. I always like paintings which make me want to look and look as this one did - and then come back to them again and take another look. I also liked the work on this artist's website and look forward to seeing more in exhibitions in London.

Aishan Yu was born in Chongqing, China in 1981 and now lives and works in London

Other works I liked included:
A second portrait by BP Portrait Prizewinner Peter Monkman is included in the show - however I prefer the one that won the BP.

I went to see the works on Tuesday and took the photos of my shortlisted works while there.

I was consequently rather pleasantly surprised to find that two of my shortlist also got highlighted by Michael Glover in his review in The Independent - see The Threadneedle Prize, Mall Galleries, London

What's your shortlist?

Do feel free to submit your shortlist by leaving a comment. Nice to have a list, even better to have the reasons why. Please also say whether you have seen the work in person or have created your shortlist from the digital image (remembering that this is the way that works get selected for exhibition in very many art competitions these days!)

The future

I've every confidence that the Threadneedle Prize will grow in stature and become a prize which artists are very proud to have on their CV. It won't happen overnight and it might take longer because all artists need to live or work in the UK - however it will happen.

Will you be entering next year?

Making a Mark reviews......


  1. Oh! Bum! Now I know what figurative means, all these years I was under a dellusion, but he is right isnt he. (Mr Suewell that is)However, dispite there being no obvious figures in the sky one thats the one for me, beautiful.

  2. Interesting comments from Brian Sewell. I have to admit that whilst there are some excellent pieces shortlisted here, I have been fairly underwhelmed by the overall standard the past couple of years.

    I was unsuccessful this year (with, so perhaps I'm just bitter! However, the information to artists states:

    "Artists are invited to submit representational and figurative work that retains a strong reference to the real world..."

    Have I missed a trick here ??


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